As we shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, families and friends across the country are turning to internet platforms to stay entertained, informed and connected. Social media apps are seeing usage explode, especially among teens, as Hollywood celebrities and everyday Americans post creative and engaging videos they are producing from their homes.
As president of the Illinois PTA and a suburban mother of a teenage son, I have concerns for the privacy and protection of younger users on social media apps. There are too many bad actors trying to take advantage of our teens through digital interactions.
One popular app, TikTok, recently launched a number of enhancements to safety policies, controls, and educational resources that will help keep our teens safe. The National PTA — along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Family Online Safety Institute and ConnectSafely — agreed to partner with TikTok to help inform parents of the new parental controls, like its Family Pairing feature, which gives parents the ability to guide their teen’s online experience while also educating them about online safety and digital citizenship.
TikTok users can begin their creator journey as early as age 13 — a critical time for teens and their families to learn about digital literacy and smart online behavior. In addition to Family Pairing, TikTok also offers educational safety videos and parental guides, like its Top Ten Tips for Parents. The app also features a code of conduct outlined in its Community Guidelines to help parents and teens understand what responsible community behavior looks like, how to identify and report content that may be in violation, and what it means to be positive digital community members.
Family Pairing specifically allows parents to link their TikTok account to their teen’s account and set controls, including screen time management, a restricted mode that limits the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all ages, and restrictions on direct messages. Many policies and controls are in place when it comes to direct messaging, including blocking images and videos from being sent through messages. In addition, TikTok recently disabled direct messages on registered accounts for users under 16 to help ensure TikTok’s youngest users are protected.
I strongly urge parents to sit down with their teens, discuss the new safety features and link their TikTok apps using the Family Pairing feature. It’s easy to do. Just place the phones next to each other, open the TikTok apps, go to your account, open Digital Wellbeing, and click on Family Pairing in both apps. Then, follow the instructions to pair your phones.
The Illinois PTA is a statewide volunteer organization dedicated solely to the welfare of children and youth in the home, school and community. We are helping to promote TikTok’s new parental controls to ensure our parents are taking advantage of this opportunity to keep their teens safe at home, especially now when they are spending so much time on social media apps.
The COVID-19 crisis has upended daily life around the world and our students and their teachers can’t wait to get back to school. Until then, our children will continue to find ways to be creative and engage their peers, and social media usage will continue to grow. Let’s make sure they are participating in a safe way by taking advantage of TikTok’s parental controls.
• Kristin Kramer, of Glen Ellyn, is president of the Illinois state PTA.