A parent’s guide to TikTok

Tik Tok or not

Welcome to parenting in the digital era, where an endless array of apps are competing for our kids’ attention. How do we ride the digital wave as parents? In a nutshell, we stay as connected with our kids as we possibly can, and we find ourselves as much information as we possibly can.

This article offers a 101 on TikTok: what it is, how it works, why kids love it and what to look out for.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a wildly popular social media app which allows users to create, share and discover short-form videos. It offers a creative outlet for self-expression and entertainment, complete with clever editing tools. It features loads of trends that go viral, like lip-synching to well-known songs or dance videos that other people then copy. (I know, life-changing right?!) But there’s more to TikTok than song and dance. Some of the content is informative and educational, a lot is random and fairly ridiculous, some is dodgy and damaging.

How does it work?

Users create an account and make short videos, usually of themselves, which they then publish in order to share their brilliance with the world.

Hashtags can be used to enable users to find, view and follow the content they’re keen on. E.g. #teen #warriorschantcheeseburger #tiktoknz #GRWM (‘Get ready with me’, if you don’t have a teenager who can translate for you.)

While TikTok has a creative element, it’s also big on content consumption. The app’s major appeal is the endless and highly addictive stream of video content constantly available on a user’s feed – or their ‘For You’ page, as TikTok generously calls it. The For You feed is public and features TikTok’s most popular videos. There is also a ‘Following’ feed that is more personally curated according to who a user has chosen to follow.

TikTok is known for its remarkable (AKA notorious) algorithm – an ability to gain insights into a user’s world (AKA data collecting) to serve more content they’ll likely be interested in. For example, if a teen searches for and views videos about recipes, haircuts or surfing they’ll then be targeted with more and more of this type of content.

Sounds familiar, reasonable even? Sure, except that the flipside is young teens or tweens searching for, or even just stumbling upon, content that is more harmful than healthy – content related to eating disorders or self-harm, for example. More of this content is now served up in abundance, which is a significant concern.

Who uses TikTok?

In New Zealand, 1.4 million people are using TikTok, and they’re mostly young people (25% of users are 10-19 years old).

TikTok states that their app is for users 13 years and older, with further age restrictions for some of the app's features. Parents should note, however, that there are no age verifications in the registration process, so if kids sign up with a ‘less than accurate’ birth date, they’ll bypass any protection offered by the age restrictions.

If kids sign up with a 'less than accurate' birth date, they'll bypass any protection offered by the age restrictions.

What are TikTok challenges or trends?

Challenges or trends are any ideas in video form that go viral. Sometimes a TikTok challenge might occur spontaneously. Other times they are planned by brands for marketing purposes. Most challenges are harmless, like #tumbleweedchallenge or Chipotle ‘s #guacdance.

Sometimes, however, challenges are dangerous, and because young people’s brains are still developing, they can make some pretty risky decisions that cause real harm. For example, the blackout challenge which trended in 2022 had dire consequences. You can learn more about viral internet stunts and how to talk to your kid about them at

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So, is TikTok safe?

Any social media app offers some great things and some not so great things.

When it comes to TikTok, here’s a summary of four areas that fall into the ‘not so great' category.

  • CONTENT: Concerns that kids will see inappropriate content while scrolling on TikTok are valid – be it exposure to violence, overly sexual content, misinformation or harmful ideology that is very hard to regulate.

  • PREDATORS: As with many social media platforms, a significant danger is kids being targeted by predators who create friendships to gain sexual content. I know, it’s easy to think, “That won’t happen to my child.” Tragically, stats paint a disturbing picture. Since 2019, Internet Watch Foundation has seen a 1058% increase in sexual images of 7-10-year-olds recorded on a device, after the child has been groomed by a predator online. In an effort to prevent grooming, TikTok has turned off the ability for strangers to comment on content posted by users under the age of 16. Content from under-16-year-olds cannot be downloaded either. (Which only works if kids are signing up using their actual age.)

  • ATTENTION: The fast-moving nature of the TikTok isn’t ideal. While kids used to mostly watch cartoons or movies with a longer narrative, now they frequently watch loads and loads of short clips. Lots of exposure to rapid image changes increases the risk of attention problems in our young people and can cause anxiety, even if the content itself is harmless.

  • DATA MINING: Chances are you’ve heard TikTok, China and data mining all used in the same sentence. This is because TikTok was originally owned by the Chinese company ByteDance (it now has additional international investors) and people get quite nervous about surveillance and information being shared with the Chinese Government. We’re not here to speculate, but you might be interested to know that the New Zealand Government has joined other nations in banning the app from all official devices and India has banned TikTok full stop.

At Parenting Place, we strongly encourage you to make decisions that you think are best for your family.

And should my kids be on it?

TikTok’s guidelines say users need to be 13, while Common Sense Media suggest 15+.

You’re the one who best knows your child, and you’re the one who best knows your values. At Parenting Place, we strongly encourage you to make decisions that you think are best for your family. And know that you can always change those decisions. It’s vital that we stay connected with our kids and regularly check-in on what they're doing online - both at home and when they’re out with friends. With TikTok, even if our kids don’t have their own account, they can appear on their friends’ accounts, access TikTok through a web browser and even set up an account on their friend's phone.

My intention here is not to focus solely on the negative but given the risks of this platform and the challenge of keeping our kids safe online, robust conversation is important. And yes, we also need to bring our kids into this conversation as often and as honestly as possible too. This supports them to make good decisions for themselves – whether we’re watching or not!

We also encourage you to be bold. We’re all here because we want to do the best we can for our kids. From many angles, it would seem that delaying access to TikTok - for as long as possible - would be the ideal way forward.

From many angles, it seems that holding out as long as possible from giving our kids access to TikTok could be the ideal way forward.

Heather Hale, a personal stylist and image consultant, and mum to a tween and a teen, was a guest on our podcast recently. She offered a deeply thought-provoking perspective on social media access for our young people. “Maybe I’m just going to say never!”

Heather went on to share how she’d explained to her daughter: “I would run in front of a car for you, so maybe this is me running in front of a car for you. Maybe this is me saying – this is going to be really hard, to not let you have it and to be the bad guy, and to make this really outrageous decision because in high school, whose mum doesn't let them have something that everyone else has? But maybe this is what I’ll do – go back to a few extremes! The effects of social media on teenagers can be extreme, so maybe we need to be extreme as parents!”

Good on you Heather!

My kid is already on TikTok. How can I make it safer for them?

In general, your go-to strategies for keeping kids safe online are supervision and parental settings.

More specifically:

  • Set up your own TikTok account and turn on Family Pairing to link your account to your child’s. This will enable a variety of content, privacy and wellbeing settings.

  • Activate Restricted Mode for your kids to reduce access to mature content. Go to the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the app and click on Digital Wellbeing. Here you can enable Screen Time Management as well as Restricted Mode.

  • Adjust/turn off Direct Messaging (DMs) to protect your kids from online grooming from strangers.

  • Keeping a time limit on daily app and online use is helpful. This can be done in the phone settings or using a family filter service like NZ-developed Safe Surfer.

  • Set expectations for your kids that devices are used in an open living space only, not in bedrooms, so you can see or hear what is happening.

  • If you or your child ever see harmful content on TikTok or anywhere else online, report it to Netsafe. Doing so can make the internet a safer place for everyone.

And before I sign off, here are more safety insights from TikTok themselves.

Kia kaha, fellow parent. #wegotthis

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR Specialist, Writer and Presenter for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences. Holly is co-founder of

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