The Ladies – February 9, 2021 – Dangers of TikTok and SnapChat for Kids
Welcome to The Ladies for February 9, 2021! The Ladies is a women’s blog and lifestyle brand bringing curated articles on timely topics relevant to women and girls around the world — sprinkled with tidbits on things to do/see/read/buy. Subscribe to the newsletter here and post your comments below! In this post I am covering the sad story of the death of Dr. Laura Berman’s son yesterday and more on the dangers of tik tok, yubo and snapchat for kids and teens
As many of you have likely heard in the news yesterday and this morning, Dr. Laura Berman’s son has died after buying drugs on Snapchat. Her instagram post (read about her son’s Snapchat related death here) reads:
“My beautiful boy is gone. 16 years old. Sheltering at home. A drug dealer connected with him on Snapchat and gave him fentinyl laced Xanax or Percocet (toxicology will tell) and he overdosed in his room. They do this because it hooks people even more and is good for business but It causes overdose and the kids don’t know what they are taking. My heart is completely shattered and I am not sure how to keep breathing. I post this now only so that not one more kid dies. We watched him so closely. Straight A student. Getting ready for college. Experimentation gone bad. He got the drugs delivered to the house. Please watch your kids and WATCH SNAPCHAT especially. That’s how they get them.”
I felt compelled to post about this because our children are suffering so much right now through this pandemic – alone for much longer periods of time on their social media as families are cooped up trying to stay safe. Screen time has skyrocketed and so often parents assume that their children are safely tucked away in their rooms keeping themselves busy online with friends when online school ends. Even for children who are attending in-person school either part-time or full-time, because of the extreme limitations on socializing and indoor gatherings that are currently in place, they are spending more time online than ever before. I am a mother of three children – 15, 14 and 12.
When music.ly first came out my girls were roughly 9/10/11 – all of the kids wanted to try it. We gave it a try and not too soon after banned it for a long list of reasons. I initially liked the creative expression and dancing but quickly realized that it potentially provided inappropriate access to my children and would require a lot of monitoring – in other words, the risks far outweighed the benefits given their young ages. Fast forward to now -Music.ly became TikTok which has blown up with young kids and teens over the past few years. During the height of the pandemic, my kids were using TikTok more and more – to the point that they seemed to be doing TikTok dances with every step they took. Like little TikTok robots. I am sure many of you can relate. I thought to myself that teachers were probably not sad to be missing out on classrooms filled with kids TikToking in their heads rather than learning! It seemed that in the summer of 2020, every song that came out had a corresponding TikTok dance. Families locked up together participated in TikTok challenges. It seemed harmless enough and a good way to pass the time while so many of us were in lockdown. However, there were various red flags I noticed and I started monitoring the app and it’s associated “feed” much more closely. The way the Tik Tok algorithm quickly adapts your child’s feed to what it ‘thinks’ they want to see based on prior likes can be a very dangerous thing. Yes it’s hard to believe, but like all social media, TikTok has artificial intelligence that is constantly monitoring your child – it molds and adapts the “FOR YOU” feed and can actually push your child in certain directions, certain moods, can influence the way they want to dress, act, talk and even the way they act towards you. Yes, you bet – when they see hours and hours of TikToks of kids complaining about their parents – or how sad they are during the pandemic – or how depressed they are and want to kill themselves (yes it’s rampant on TikTok) – or whatever it may be, this can very influential powerful stuff for vulnerable teens lonely and sad during this unusual time. They can suddenly develop interests or behaviors they didn’t previously have because of the undue influence of this app.
In addition, though you may think your child’s account is set to “private” – it doesn’t stop strangers from requesting them. Stranger danger on TikTok, SnapChat and other platforms is a clear and present danger to your kids. There is another social media app that has popped up called YUBO. I recently deleted it from my child’s phone.
What’s YUBO? It’s highly dangerous for kids and is being frequented by sexual predators. It’s being called “Tinder for Teens”. I encourage all parents to read about Yubo and decide for yourself.
Some tips for monitoring TikTok:
-Check out your child’s “Following” feed (to see what kinds of people and friends they are following) – also check out their “For You” feed. The “For You” feed uses this concerning algorithm to push your child in certain directions. Please also read my previous post on Teens & The Social Dilemma , I highly recommend that all parents watch the Social Dilemma documentary)
-Click on the three dots at the top of their TikTok account. Make sure Privacy is set to “Private Account”. You can turn “Suggest your account to others” to off if you want only their close friends who have their profile name and can request them to have access. Go to “Safety” and set “Allow Your Videos to be Downloaded” to Off. Set “Who Can Send You Direct Messages” to “Friends”. You can go down that list and adjust additional privacy settings.
-Next go to “Digital Wellbeing”. Set “Screen Time Management” to “Turned On” and set a screen time limitation to your child. I currently have mine set to 40 minutes. It’s interesting that 40 minutes is the minimum amount of time TikTok allows – why not 20 or 30 min?? At least with 40 minutes per day, I am allowing a little time for them to see what their friends are posting and interact a bit but not be as susceptible to the “For You” feed – I really don’t like TikTok’s influence here, but I do think it’s fun at this age for them to interact with their close friends.
-Go in and monitor who is requesting to follow your kids. Even if your child’s account is set to private, others from outside of your community can still request them.
-If you want to see what videos your child is posting, it’s really important to not only look at the videos your child is posting (if you allow them to post) but also critically important to see what their close friends are posting. A lot of kids are posting G-rated videos on their own feeds if they know their parents are monitoring, but going to their friends houses (especially the friends whose parents are NOT monitoring) and you can watch those innocent videos quickly transform into R rated videos that their parents aren’t seeing on their own feeds. Some parents are “Following” their kids but not monitoring their friends. Alternatively, you can login as your child and see this. You will be surprised at how many moms have never logged into TikTok to monitor activity. There is a lot of sexualization of young teen girls happening that is very concerning and something that moms need to stay on top of. These kids are growing up so fast because of social media. It wouldn’t be happening without that.
-Lastly, aside from routinely logging into your child’s own TikTok account, you can also pair your account with theirs -there is a pairing feature – it’s under “Settings” and you go to “Family Pairing”.
-There is an Inbox feature on TikTok – when you are in the Inbox you can also click at the top and see “Follow Requests” – one tip is that any account that says “user” followed by a series of numbers or “tiktok” followed by account and a set of numbers is often a fake account or someone trolling to follow kids. I usually delete any of those requests. Go through with your kids frequently and take a look at who is following your child and if they are friends. Of course people can create fake accounts that look like kids accounts so the dangers are there.
Lastly there is always the option to say no completely to social media for your kids.
SnapChat has its risks too and we will cover that in an upcoming post. I hope some of these tips will help you keep your kids safe.
If you want to read more on this topic, google “TikTok Influence on Girls” and you will find a wide range of articles on the dangers of this app. Here are a few good ones:
NBC article from last summer, “It’s Not Worth it, Young Women on How TikTok Has Warped Their Body Image”: Seven women in their teens and 20s told NBC News that the content they viewed on TikTok had pushed them to fixate more on their diets and exercise regimens to a dangerous extent.
From Bloomberg: Teens are Suffering in Lockdown Isolation. Can Tech Help?