The Ultimate Guide to TikTok: Is TikTok Safe for Kids?

Hands holding smartphones wiht TikTok with pictures and videos of kids on it
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Summary: The Ultimate Guide to TikTok

Kids use TikTok as a way to connect with their friends and have some creative self-expression. It can provide hours of entertainment — but also comes with a few safety risks and security issues. As a parent or guardian of a TikTok user, it’s important you make sure your child has the right privacy settings in place.

Here’s how to access TikTok’s privacy settings:

  1. Find the Profile icon on the bottom right corner of the TikTok app homepage.
  2. Click on the hamburger icon at the top right corner.
  3. Click on “Privacy.”

Keep reading to learn more about the privacy options you can set, as well as additional features that provide more layers of protection for your teen.

No place on the internet is entirely safe for kids, including the TikTok app. The presence of cyberbullies, predators, and inappropriate content makes the platform a dangerous place.

However, TikTok does have several privacy and safety features built into the app. While this doesn’t eliminate security risks or mental health safety, it’s a great place to start.

What is TikTok and Why Do Kids Love it?

TikTok was the most downloaded social media app in the world in 2020. It specializes in video creation and streaming and allows users to record, edit and share short-form videos (either 15 seconds, one minute, or three minutes long). You can add filters and songs, as well as collaborate with other digital creators.

Young users aged 10 to 19 made up 25% of TikTok’s users in 2021, the largest share of all age groups. So, what is it exactly that kids and teens love about TikTok?

Screenshot of the TikTok Homepage

For starters, TikTok presents an endless stream of video content, and the app’s algorithm means you’re always one scroll away from a video that will capture your attention. From recipes to song covers, dance challenges, comedy skits, and even pool-cleaning videos — whatever your interest is, there’s a TikTok video for you.

Social media influencers, celebrities, and brands now also have TikTok — and fans can get noticed by their favorite stars if they interact with a video. On TikTok, funny comment exchanges also get turned into videos — so you don’t even need to create videos to participate in a trend or receive widespread attention.

In short, people love TikTok because it’s easy to use while still being personalized to their tastes. Plus, as with any social media, we enjoy the attention we get from likes, follows, and video shares.

However, while TikTok is fun, the same elements that make TikTok a digital playground for kids also pose some serious security issues.

What are the Dangers of TikTok?

In addition to security issues, there are other problems with the social media app that could cause issues for your child. Social media apps are known for harmful effects on mental health, like increased depression and anxiety, according to researchers.

Social media also exposes kids to violent, graphic, or misinformed content they might not be ready to see. TikTok is no exception to this trend.

Below, we discuss in detail the various dangers your child might encounter if they join TikTok.


1. Access to inappropriate content

Inappropriate content iconTikTok allows creators to access popular songs to edit their videos, some of which contain harsh curse words and sexual language. The ways that creators dance or dress may not be appropriate for all kids, either.

Even though the “Younger Users” version of TikTok filters out mature content, it’s still likely that inappropriate content will make its way through. Users can block and report accounts or comments, but critics say TikTok is often slow in addressing reports.

Previously, TikTok was criticized for not removing accounts that made sexually explicit comments on the accounts of children, posing a serious safety risk for kids on TikTok.


2. Addicting likes, comments, and followers

Suspicious man chat iconIt’s human nature that we directly correlate popularity to value. The more likes, followers, or comments a video gets, the more validation your teen feels they are receiving.

This desire to feel included is why teens often participate in challenges online. They want to be part of something cool, even if it turns out to be dangerous.

Not to mention, the part of a teen’s brain that is responsible for rational thinking is not fully developed until their mid-20s. Teens are often more impulsive and more likely to do things online that they wouldn’t normally do, especially when it comes to peer approval.


3. Predators and cyberbullying

Kid on a laptop with a stalker behind himTikTok’s comment and messaging features are home to online harassment, cyberbullying, and predatory messaging. If your child’s account is public, this opens them up to the eyes and messages of strangers. Kids on TikTok often want their videos to be liked, and this makes them vulnerable to safety threats on TikTok, like sexual exploitation.

Cyberbullies will troll others online and make rude or hateful comments on their videos. TikTok gives users the option to approve comments before they are visible, but this doesn’t keep the users from reading them, which can be harmful to kids’ mental health.


4. Poor data security

Padlock with Warning iconTikTok has a poor history of data security. In 2019, the company paid a $5.7 million fine as part of a data privacy complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against the company under its former name Musical.ly.

In 2021, the Irish Data Protection Commission investigated TikTok for its user data collection methods. The social media company was also sued in the UK on the basis that the app collects children’s personal information and does not provide a clear explanation as to what the company does with the data.


How Does TikTok Protect Kids?

For kids under 13, TikTok created a Younger Users version of the social media app. They did this to comply with COPPA or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA limits what data social media apps can collect from kids under 13.

Technically, kids under 13 can’t sign up for a regular TikTok account because it violates COPPA. However, TikTok knows that younger kids will find ways to sign up anyway, such as by using false birthdates. In an effort to address these concerns, they created Younger Users.

How the Younger Users version of TikTok works

kid using laptop in front of shield iconTikTok’s Younger Users version is really just an absence of features, not a redesign of the app made for kids. TikTok users under the age of 13 count as “Younger Users.”

Less data is collected from TikTok’s Younger Users compared to users aged 13 and above. Younger Users also cannot publicly share personal information, including videos or profile details.

Still, the app collects a significant amount of information regardless. For instance, TikTok collects registration details including name, birth date, username, and password. According to TikTok’s Younger Users privacy policy, TikTok also collects data about your child’s device like IP address, browser details, and location, as well as app activity details like time spent in the app, video watches, and general usage information.

You might be wondering, “Is TikTok safe for 11-year-olds? Or an anxious 10-year-old who wants to send videos to his friends?” The answer is: probably not. The app is designed for adults, and there are a lot of other good social media apps designed specifically for younger users, like PopJam.

What data does TikTok collect?

By default, TikTok collects a lot of data about user activity. They share this data with third parties, like their business partners, service providers, and advertisers, among others. The following is what TikTok collects about its users on both the regular app and the “Younger Users” version, according to the company’s privacy policy.

Information Collected by TikTokRegular Users
(Aged 13+)
Younger Users
(Aged 12 and below)
Login informationUsername and passwordUsername and password
Personal informationDate of birth, proof of identity or age*Date of birth
Contact informationEmail and/or telephone numberEmail and/or telephone number
Profile informationProfile photo, profile video, and information disclosed on the user’s profile
Device informationIP address, user agent, mobile carrier, time zone settings, identifiers for advertising purposes, model of your device, the device system, network type, device IDs, screen resolution and operating system, app and file names and types, keystroke patterns or rhythms, battery state, audio settings, and connected audio devicesDevice ID, IP address, web browser type, and version
LocationLocation information based on SIM card and/or IP address, precise location data (such as GPS)*Country-level location
App activityPreferences, list of followers, and list of followingVideo watches, time in the app, and general usage data
User contentPhotographs, audios, and videos the user uploads or creates, comments and livestreams made by the user, clipboard data*
ContactsPhone contact list, Facebook contact list
In-app purchasesPurchases made, date and time when purchases were made, amount spent
Payment informationPayment card numbers or third-party payment information (such as PayPal)

* This data is collected with additional user permission or under specific circumstances. For instance, proof of identity is required when verifying users applying for a Pro Account.

TikTok’s Parental Controls

Within TikTok’s security settings, there are three specific parental controls to help parents create a safer experience for their children. Each of these parental controls requires a passcode. This ensures that children can’t change the parental controls settings once they are set.

These three parental controls are:

  1. Screen Time Management
  2. Restricted Mode
  3. Family Pairing

Screen Time Management

Just as it says, this feature lets you manage screen time by having you choose between a 40-, 60-, 90-, or 120-minute time limit per day on the app. If a teen reaches their limit, they have to enter a passcode to keep scrolling. Alternatively, you could allow them to keep using the app through the “Family Pairing” feature (which we talk about below).

To set screen time management, go to the Settings and Privacy page and choose “Digital Wellbeing.” This section is about managing a user’s experience in terms of screen time and content filters.

Restricted Mode

Under Digital Wellbeing, you’ll also see Restricted Mode. Turning on this algorithm-based feature changes the appearance of mature or otherwise inappropriate content for younger TikTok users. To turn on Restricted Mode, set a 4-digit passcode.

Screenshot of the "Digital Wellbeing" settings on TikTok

Family Pairing

Finally, Family Pairing gives parents more control over the settings for screen time, restricted mode, direct messaging, and whether or not the account is private. Family Pairing connects your TikTok account to your child’s account through a QR code.

You’ll need a TikTok account and your teen’s phone to complete this process from start to finish.

  1. Under Content and Activity, go to Family Pairing.
  2. When prompted, choose “Parent.”
  3. Follow the prompt to scan the QR code to link accounts with your teen. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have the ability to control some settings on your teen’s phone.

Screenshot of the "Family Pairing" options on TikTok

How to Keep Your Kids Safe on TikTok

Ensuring a child’s safety on the internet can be a tedious undertaking. After all, why would a ten-year-old care about data security? Chances are they won’t. They just want to watch funny videos on their phone.

The good news is caring about internet safety comes with age and experience. In time, your kids will begin exercising initiative and start protecting themselves online on their own. In the meantime, however, you can begin educating them about internet safety and online privacy.

You can (and should!) also familiarize yourself with TikTok’s security settings to make sure those settings are as optimized as possible. Below, we provide general pointers on how to keep kids safe on TikTok. The next sections of this article then go over TikTok’s security features and settings to help users understand the app better.

1. Get to know the app

There are two main reasons why you should set up your own account on TikTok. First, connecting your account to your child’s account using the feature “Family Pairing” gives you the ability to control some privacy settings.

Secondly, if your teen is older or resistant to sharing an account, you’ll be able to keep up with TikTok trends and TikTok challenges on your own account. Ask your teen who they like to follow, what their friends are doing on the app, and stay in touch with what’s going on.

Setting up your TikTok account

To set up your account, open up the site on your browser or download the app on your device and then sign up for an account. Here are some tips to set up your own account:

  1. Use unique login information. Make sure your password is strong and different from any other account. Use a password manager to help you keep track of your strong login credentials.
  2. Don’t share personal details. Don’t add your address, payment details, or real birthdate. Even if your account is private, anyone can see your photo, username, following, likes, and bio. Use an avatar or vague photo and don’t put any identifying details in your bio unless you are okay with the world being able to see it.
  3. Explore and set the user privacy settings. We’ll explain more of that below.

Now, you’ve got your TikTok account. Here’s what we suggest you explore and pay attention to in the app:

  • Music choices are often based on popular music and may have curse words or lyrics you don’t think are appropriate.
  • Filters change your child’s appearance, which can be harmful to mental health, as seen in other visual apps like Instagram.
  • Top influencers will often go viral on the app. Get to know who is popular and what type of content they share.
  • The Guardians Guide has tips and resources about things like cyberbullying and safety partners for families on TikTok.

2. Monitor comments and messages

chat icon on a laptop screenFamily Pairing doesn’t allow you to monitor your child’s activity. Instead, you can ask to follow your child. This way, you’ll see what they’re posting, who they interact with, and what videos they like.

This doesn’t mean you spy on their activity every day, but that you spot-check activity regularly to look for red flags. Look out for things like graphic content and sexually explicit comments. For example, internet slang like 5ex (“sex”) or CU46 (“see you for sex”) can be considered a red flag.

You will also notice if a dangerous challenge is trending, like the #tidepodchallenge that was devastatingly fatal for some teens. Make sure to talk to your teen before they get any bad ideas.

If they know you’re keeping an eye on their activity, teens will think twice about what they post. This engages their critical thinking, which is never a bad thing. If you regularly check their account, you might even notice when they’re feeling low, for example after a fight with friends or an incident of bullying. These things might be harder for them to share with you directly because they’re embarrassed or scared.

3. Talk to your kids about your TikTok safety concerns

parent talking to kid on couchTalk to your kids about TikTok and your concerns like the dangers of having a public profile or talking to strangers. Here are some tips:

  • Let them know how you plan to monitor their activity to keep them safe on TikTok. Whether you’re checking through a paired account, content filtering, or monitoring their app activity, make sure they know. There are a lot of creeps and trolls out there, and it’s your job to help your teen navigate a safer experience — just like you do in real life. Remind them that it’ll be more fun for them if they don’t need to worry about inappropriate messages or hateful comments being posted on their videos.
  • Tell them you know how easy it is to get addicted to social media and make sure you have other fun activities to do on the weekends. Schedule time to go on hikes, play games as a family, or go on a social-media-free camping trip with friends. Research shows that time offline and outdoors improves mental health, which is a major factor in keeping kids safe on TikTok and any other social media app.
  • Remind your teen that the number of likes and followers doesn’t define them. They have many wonderful attributes and social media doesn’t being to scratch the surface. Boosting self-esteem and talking things through with your teen will help them build the resilience they need to deal with issues that come up on TikTok for kids.
  • Talk to them often about social media — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Make videos together, be silly, and don’t judge them. Share with them what you do on social media, too. This creates an open line of communication so that, if they do experience something unpleasant, they’ll feel comfortable telling you about it.

How to Set Up a Safe TikTok Account for Kids

Setting up a brand new TikTok account for your kid? We walk you through the process to ensure that you’re optimizing TikTok’s built-in safety settings:

  1. Sign up with a unique username or email. We don’t recommend signing up using another app, like Instagram or Google. The most secure option is to use a username or email that doesn’t relate to your child’s identity in anyway (no real names). It’s a good idea to create an email just for social media in case the account gets hacked, which is known to happen on other social media like Facebook.
  2. Have your child choose interests or skip this option.
  3. The app will ask if it can send notifications.
  4. The app will ask you if it can sync device contacts. We recommend saying no because it gives TikTok access to details about your device and contacts.
  5. Set a profile picture. Encourage your child or teen to use an avatar instead of a selfie or other photograph, since this picture will be visible to everyone, whether their account is public or private.
  6. Set up the privacy security settings. Below, you can read about which features to adjust and how to keep your child safe depending on their age and privacy preferences.

How to Set TikTok Security Settings

Though TikTok may have its issues, keeping an eye on your children and opening communication with them will help you feel better about their usage of the app. Of course, another important aspect of keeping kids safe is ensuring that the app’s security tools are being used correctly by optimizing TikTok’s security settings.

To find these settings, go to the homepage and find the Profile icon in the bottom right corner. Next, click on the three lines at the top right corner and click on “Privacy.” From that menu, you’ll be able to change several security settings.

Screenshot of the "Settings and privacy" screen on TikTok

Discoverability

The features under “discoverability” have to do with how people can find you (or how you find them) on TikTok. We suggest making the following changes:

  • Private Account: Turn on this option so the slider turns green. This will make sure that only approved users can follow the account and watch its videos. For anyone under 18, Private should be set as the default.
  • Suggest your account to others: If you turn on any of these options, TikTok will store additional data, including your child’s phone number, Facebook information, contact, or internet activity including TikTok links sent to or by them. Teens aged 13 to 15 will have the setting “suggest your account to others” set to “off” by default, which is what we recommend for any account.
  • Sync contacts and Facebook friends: This will give TikTok access to your contacts on your device or on Facebook. We recommend turning this off.

Screenshot of the "Private Account" settings on TikTok

Personalization and data

The next section is “personalization and data,” including settings that determine how TikTok uses your teen’s data to target advertisements. If these options are activated, TikTok and its third-party business partners will track internet activity so they can show your teen more relevant ads. For the most secure experience, we recommend turning these features off.

Screenshot of the "Ads personalization" settings on TikTok

Safety

The last section on this page is “Safety.” A large part of keeping your kids safe on TikTok is about reducing contact with strangers or harmful content. These features hold the key to how your child interacts with others on the platform.

  • Downloads: If the account is set to private, this is automatically turned off, and others cannot download your child’s videos. Users under 16 cannot have their videos downloaded. 16 to 17-year-olds will have the feature set to “off” by default, although they can change this at any time.
  • Comments: You can choose who can comment on videos, approve comments before they become visible, filter out offensive words. 13-15-year-olds can only choose from “Friends” or “No one” for the comment setting.
  • Following List, Duet, Stitch: You can choose who can see your following list, Duet videos (videos that show your content side-by-side with another user’s), Stitch videos (adding your video to someone else’s), and your liked videos. You can set your privacy settings to “Friends,” “Followers,” or “Only Me.” No one can Duet or Stitch with a video created by a user younger than 16. However, anyone can Duet or Stitch with users over 16. For 16 to 17 years old, the default option for who can Duet or Stitch with their video is set to “Friends.”
  • Direct Messages: You choose who can send your teen direct messages from either “Friends” or “No one.” Depending on your teen’s age, direct messages may not be available.

Screenshot of the "Privacy" settings on TikTok

Security and login

Under “Security and Login” users can run a report for security alerts, see what devices their account is logged in on, and manage third-party apps. Any third-party app authorized on your child’s TikTok account can get access to their location, contacts, camera, photos, or calendar.

Two-step verification is an added layer of security that’s beneficial to your child if someone else gets ahold of their password. Your child selects what other method they would like to use to verify their account when you log in from either a text, email, or password.

Screenshot of the "Security and login" settings on TikTok

How to Block and Report TikTok Content

Another feature that you and your child should know is how to report and block harmful content, comments, or users. When you report harmful content, it is flagged by TikTok, reviewed, and then removed from TikTok completely.

Blocking and reporting content on TikTok doesn’t just keep the app a safer place for your child, but other children using it, too.

How to report a video or comment

  1. Tap and hold a video or comment, and a pop-up will appear.
  2. Select “Report.
  3. Select a reason.

Screenshot of the "Report" option on TikTok

How to block or report an account

  1. Go to the account profile page.
  2. Click on the three dots at the top right corner and find the flag icon that says “Report.”
  3. Choose “Report Account” or “Block.”

Screenshot of the "Report" and "Block" options on TikTok

TikTok Safety for Kids and Teens

The question “Is TikTok safe for kids?” keeps parents up at night. But don’t worry, you can keep your kids safe on TikTok by understanding the risks and then talking to your teen about your concerns. Odds are they’ll already know about some of the problems with social media and will be fine to make sure privacy settings are set correctly. This way, they can have fun creating, socializing, and connecting.

To learn more about online safety for your kids, read our definitive guide here. You can also learn more about the safety of other popular social media apps:

Is TikTok Safe for Kids?: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have more questions about TikTok? Read questions that others are asking about this popular social media app in our FAQs.

The minimum age for TikTok users is 13 years old. TikTok is required to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which limits what data companies can collect about kids under 13.

TikTok created a “Younger Users” experience for kids under 13 who want to explore the social media site with less risk. For its younger users, TikTok collects less data (though it still captures registration details including name, birth date, username, and password).

The problem with Younger Users is that it’s not “TikTok for Kids.” It’s “TikTok with Fewer Features.” Children may simply lie about their age in order to access all of TikTok’s fun features. Learn more about TikTok for Younger Users in our resource here.

Where there is social media, there’s inappropriate content. TikTok is no exception. Age-inappropriate content one might see on TikTok include harsh language or curse words in song lyrics, suggestive dancing or clothing choices, or offensive or hurtful comments on videos. Learn about the dangers of TikTok and how to keep your child safe by reading our article here.

Author
Online Safety Journalist
Allison has an impressive research background and a drive to stay on top of the latest trends in cybersecurity to help others combat cybercrime and stay safe online. She has covered a variety of topics but is passionate about informing the VPNOverview readers on online safety and privacy, especially for children and teens.
Contributor
News & Tech Editor
Nica is a news and tech editor at VPNOverview. She has an educational background in journalism and has worked in content marketing across several industries, including finance and cybersecurity.