Listen: Adolescent psychologist and educator Collett Smart on the dangers of TikTok and how to discuss social media with your child
TikTok has exploded onto the social media scene in the last two years.
TikTok started in 2016 and its rise accelerated during the pandemic, to the extent that it now has over a billion active users.
Recently, the app came under fire when distressing self-harm content was circulated to school children around the world.
When asked if TikTok dropped the ball, adolescent psychologist, teacher and parenting expert Collett Smart bluntly states: “I don’t think TikTok ever had the ball, if I’m honest. TikTok is a massive concern for a lot of IT experts, a lot of people working with children. I think that video just put a lot of the bigger issues into the spotlight”.
Although the app is rated 13+, given over 30 per cent of TikTok users are adolescents, parents need to think carefully about whether it is suitable for their children.
“There’s a lot of adult content, a lot of themes that aren’t suitable for young users, there’s drug use, self-harm which was highlighted, sexually explicit language,” Collett said.
Collett said there is also a lot of content around loneliness and depression that encourages self-harm.
“And, then of course, we see sexualised children, videos of kids who have gone onto TikTok miming videos which they think are appropriate, using sexually explicit adult language, behaving in sexualised ways, bullying, harassment in comments,” she said.
There have even been humiliating videos of people with disabilities, Collett explains, but the biggest concern is the way adult predators can interact with kids in real time.
“Adult predators and grooming are anywhere where there’s children. The live streaming has this risk of inappropriate comments and requests in real time because they know that children are interacting in real time, live.”
When asked whether there are ways to make TikTok safer, Collett said parents should proceed with caution, as many of the safety features are ineffective.
“So really, my warning is that there are still a lot of massive issues with TikTok privacy and security controls. In practice, they don’t really seem to be effective. My biggest concern is the amount of young children and tweens on TikTok,” Collett said.
Collett advised delaying access to most social media platforms until children are over 13, but for TikTok she recommends 16+ years.
“Keep talking and reminding our children that they can come to us about everything. Talk early, talk often, make it normal in your house. Keep devices in communal areas, out of bedrooms. And then, go and look at the e-safety commissioner’s website. They have fantastic information on all areas of social media or online gaming.”