It is impressive to note how the Internet has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives within a span of a few decades. From knowledge to Social construct, every aspect of life is woven in the folds of social media and the control it provides to its users.
But everything has a flip side to it, and the Internet is no different, mainly social media, where most of the generation today practically resides. While there are certainly endless benefits, opportunities, and options to explore, the vast and ever-growing social media world is yet to become a safer place for kids and the vulnerable. The social media tools have provided online predators and evil heads frightening power they abuse, lurking around looking for new victims.
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What Is TikTok?
TikTok is a popular video-sharing platform allowing its users to create short videos with a variety of filters, music, and effects. These video formats are typically designed to let people explore their creative, artistic side and share it with friends and family. TikTok has vast potential, as it provides users around the globe a common platform to showcase their talents and maybe even rise to fame as an influencer or a creator.
The pandemic left everyone with a lot of free time to scroll through social media and try different things, especially kids for whom the only entertainment during these rough times were TV and Smartphones. Therefore, the fact that since March 2020, TikTok has witnessed a surge in popularity with 11 million new users must come as no surprise. So, if your kid has social media, the chances are that they are on TikTok as well.
But, like any other social media, parallel to popularity raises the risk of online abuse. Let us discuss the cons of having an account on TikTok for kids –
The Not So Pleasant Side Of TikTok
Though no platform or Internet as a whole in that matter is safe, it won’t be an exaggeration to call TikTok a breeding ground for such crimes. Since the majority of the users on the platform are made of teens and younger adults, TikTok is high up the targeting list of cyberbullies, abusers, and harmful content.
Before getting into ways to protect, let us look at all the potential dangers for kids online. Below are some of the methods used by predators to target teenagers, especially young girls –
The Smooth talk and Compliments
Social media usage and the need for validation go hand in hand for a lot of people online. TikTok is the world of new faces and talents, and many kids explore the platform looking for support and popularity.
Since the online world has already set unrealistic beauty standards, the need to be liked by people and fit into the definition of ‘beautiful’ grows all the more intense in kids. Therefore, young girls and teens who are specially insecure about their looks and talent become the perfect targets for predators.
Kids wish to gain a massive following, flattering comments, and a lot of likes and shares on their videos, and this precisely makes them vulnerable. People use pleasing comments and DMs to satisfy this need for validation and grow closer to their victims. In their sense of feeling superior, children often overlook anything suspicious or improper, which can worsen with time.
Predators often establish trust and friendship with their victims before asking for inappropriate content like pictures and videos in the name of serving them more popularity and fan base.
Bullies And Trolls
Cyberbullying is one of the most common and widespread crises of social media. People often under a fake name and account bully those they don’t like. They use methods like commenting, making groups, and DMs to target others.
Trolls, circulation of false information, abuse, harassment, altered content, and fake accounts under their target’s name are increasingly becoming the new normal. Children are susceptible to this harassment and, more often than not, blame themselves for the situation, too scared to report.
Several cases of online abuse and hate have surfaced lately, costing many young and budding influencers their lives.
The For You Feature
You must be aware of how social media tracks your taste and flood your feed with similar content. This is a marketing strategy used by various platforms to increase the app time of its users. Though this is a decent feature for most, sadly, it can easily facilitate exposure to victims for predators and pedophiles online.
If a person likes videos of young girls lip-syncing to a song, TikTok makes sure they see more such videos, hence helping them curate a perfect list of vulnerable next victims. However, there is an option to turn off the feature of For You, so for someone concerned about their child’s content showing up on others’ feed, it is best to instruct them on it.
Online Fraud And Brainwashing
What’s a better way to scam people than online? It is convenient, much safer, and provides plenty of easy targets. The Internet is no short on fraudsters and people scheming to extract easy money out of people. They target the perfect and desperate audience on social media, offering them exciting deals and offers in exchange for cash or, in some cases, even illicit content.
Brainwashing and imposition of ideologies is another scary aspect of being on social media. People impose their ideas and views on people, presenting them believably and ethically. Children are at high risk of forming theories and idolizing the information without the knowledge to set right and wrong apart.
Online Grooming And unhealthy content
Sexual abusers are everywhere, and with the ease of creating false identities, contacting, and building trust, online Grooming is on the rise. Pedophiles often target younger girls and boys, who can be easily manipulated and strike conversations. These conversations turn sexual, and kids do not realize the motive and do as they’re told. The predators extract sexually explicit content and either circulate them on adult sites or use them to blackmail for money or arrange an in-person meetup, which is undoubtedly dangerous.
Also, many kids online are self curious about sex and related information, that they often willingly, without considering consequence indulge in such activities. TikTok facilitates age-inappropriate videos in terms of bad music and content, exposing kids to a lot of mature content, making them even more curious.
TikTok duets is another way to connect with kids, as it lets predators perform duets with anyone around the world.
Tips To Keep The Kids Safe Online
Being active and taking necessary and bold steps is the only way to put an end to this evil looming around your kids online. Below are some steps you as a parent must take to ensure that your kids have a safe time online.
Talk About It
Communicating with your kids is one of the best and stable ways to keep them safe. Half of the kids’ problems start with them being curious and not getting a proper answer to the questions they have at home.
To begin with, ensure that your kid is the appropriate age to use social media before opening doors to one for him. If they are mature enough to understand social media, they are ready to discuss their safety and potential dangers.
Conduct a session to explain to them the consequences of risky behavior on social media. Instruct them to not share personal details with strangers online under any circumstances by giving proper examples of real-life incidents. Discuss with them the predator behavior and how to point out one.
Build trust and friendship, so they can discuss any such events with you without feeling burdened or sacred of scolding or your reaction to it. Be open and tell them to reach out.
Unless you have access to your kid’s social media account (immature kids), do not let them change the privacy settings to public for their TikTok account unless absolutely sure.
Furthermore, you can also set several content-based and in-app settings like – turning off the search tool, limiting comments, enabling restrictions on duets and comments, turning off the function to access the ‘likes,’ limiting DMs, and turning on Restricted mode.
Set Time Limits
Excess use of TikTok or any other social media in that matter is harmful to kids. Restrict and set time limits to their screen time, ensuring you’re well aware of when your kid is online.
Also, make sure you also restrict using social media in front of your kid and not make them feel excluded, neglected, or like they’re missing out on something.
Family Pairing Mode
A password-based system or Family pairing mode is among the best ways to control what’s happening on your child’s social media handle. The mode directly links your child’s account to yours, making it easier for you to change privacy settings and keep an eye on what’s going on.
The Face-Off With An Online Predator
In case your child comes across an online predator and tells you about it, keep calm even if it partially may seem like his fault at any point. Do not lash out in anger, as it will break the trust between the two of you, making it harder for the kid to confide in you again or share imperative information in fear of scolding.
After you’ve calmed down, talk to the child and process the entire situation, and look for possible ways out, which do not include running away from facing the predator. It is necessary to make the abuser pay for what they did and teach the kid the right way to tackle such situations in the future.
Some necessary steps include – Documenting the conversations and comments(screenshot them), blocking them, and reporting them to the platform’s authority as well as local authorities and cyber police. There are various sites and online help available with multiple laws to protect your child’s identity and punish the guilty.
There might be no way to impose 100% restrictions on these malicious activities online or put a moral end to these predators, but taking proper precautions and actions at an individual level is of utmost importance. The authorities of TikTok and other social media platforms are actively participating and putting efforts to make the online world safer for everyone. TikTok recently released a new set of rules and regulations to protect kids from online harassment and abuse, which, although effective, yet have several loopholes to overcome.
Being cautious, active, and up to date with your child’s online life is the only sure way to ensure their safety and trouble-free experience. Happy scrolling!