You have probably heard of TikTok, the social media network that keeps expanding and growing in popularity among people of all ages, but mainly among teenagers. That’s where all the famous dances started coming from – and it looks like they’re not going anywhere for a while, but instead will continue to get more and more popular. 

In early July, Fernanda Rocha Kanner posted a long text in her social media accounts speaking about her and her 14-year-old daughter Nina’s experience with TikTok. Fernanda decided to delete Nina’s TikTok account, which had garnered about 2 million followers, and her Instagram account.

In Fernanda’s post, she explains the reason behind this: she doesn’t want her daughter to go through her teenage years getting emotional over compliments or criticism from strangers. She also believes that that would hinder her daughter’s search for her own individuality.

The post went viral and a lot of people reacted both in favor or against Fernanda’s decision and stance. We thought this is an interesting theme to reflect on the social media use by teenagers. To what extent is it okay? Is the limit that obvious? Is taking TikTok away from the teenager worth it?

Maintaining a Dialogue, Balance, Rules and Clarity

We think everything should be discussed. After all, teenagers are their parents’ responsibility – and parents value their kid’s safety. Taking this into consideration, we think the best way forward is to sit with your kids and discuss boundaries and consequences. Teenagers may even cross these lines (they most likely will), but they will know they violated what was agreed upon together and they will have to deal with the consequences. 

Before making any decisions, it’s worth remembering that the childhood and the teenage years are stages in which we want to belong to a group, we want to be accepted and perceived, to show our worth and to feel valued. That is why teenagers like social media networks like TikTok so much – with all its likes, views and followers. All of this in excess can be harmful, but we believe every generation of teenagers had a “dangerous factor”, something that the adults worried about because they didn’t quite know it, or didn’t like it, or even didn’t understand it. 

Because of that, maintaining open communication is important. Okay, teenagers don’t like to talk to their parents. However, pushing a little when it comes to this subject is worth it – it makes it easier to notice when your kids might be needing help, in addition to showing them they have got their parents’ support. You see, it’s not a matter of convincing kids so they think like their parents. Instead, it’s about clarity and understanding the rules and what was agreed upon. 

It’s worth remembering:

The minimum permitted age to use TikTok in Brazil and the United States is 13 years old. Users younger than that may have an account but are not allowed to post any kind of content. Unfortunately, this rule is not very effective, since it is possible to create an account with a different age. Kids know this, of course, and create accounts on TikTok and other social networks with dates of birth that allow them to post content. 

Some Measures May Help Secure Teenagers’ Online Safety on TikTok and Other Social Networks

Change your kid’s profile to private: 

When we create an account on TikTok or another social network, we choose between two types of profile: public and private. A public profile allows anyone to view your content and you have no control over who is able to access them. In a private profile, only your friends and followers can see what you post. If someone wants to be your friend/follower, they need to request to do so and you need to accept. In other words, you have total control over the people who access your profile and your content, and you know exactly who sees what you post.

Having a private profile keeps random strangers from seeing what your teenager posts – and it keeps you from waking up and seeing your kid’s social media accounts have gained 2 millions followers overnight.  

Only add people your kid knows: 

Private profiles on TikTok and other social media apps allow only those who are friends or followers of the profile owner to view its content. Therefore, take it as a rule: only add people you already know. 

Talk about TikTok and Instagram exposure:

The internet is still a place full of judgment, including those body-related (regardless of body type). Caution your kids against posting intimate or sexy photos that expose too much of their bodies, even if that’s not their intention.

Other users may interpret their pictures in many ways and your kids, mostly girls, can become targets of slut-shaming (which is to be called a “slut” or other derogatory terms for violating certain socially-accepted clothing codes) or body shaming (another term in which the body is ridiculed and criticized by other people). 

Slut shaming is the act of humiliating, belittling or degrading someone, usually a woman, for their sex life, the way they dress, talks, or expresses themselves. An example of it is when a woman wears clothing considered short and hears complaints or negative comments about her appearance, her body and her behavior as a woman in society. 

Body shaming, on the other hand, is the act of controlling other people’s bodies, i.e. when someone is bullied for being considered too fat, too skinny, or as having too much cellulite, or breasts that are too big or small, etc. It’s bullying in the form of appearance pressures. Body shaming occurs more between girls than boys, but you need to always stay alert regardless.

Both of these types of bullying target teenagers’ bodies and can contribute to them developing perceptual distortions of their own bodies and even eating disorders.  

It’s also worth cautioning your kids against posting pictures of where they live, their school uniform, and other things that could identify the places they frequent and their routines. The same goes for personal information such as their IDs and social security numbers. 

Create a TikTok account and follow what your kids do online (remember to let them know that you are following them):

By doing so, you can be closer to what they post and to the people who follow them. They will most likely have a “Close Friends” group on Instagram without you, in order to post things they don’t want you to see, but that’s okay, isn’t it? We don’t want to share absolutely everything with everyone! 

See what teenagers are doing on social media:

Dive into this world and try to understand why your kids like it so much, including the TikTok dances – if they’re important to them. Show them you’re interested in what they like. You don’t have to force yourself to enjoy it, but show an interest in getting to know their world and, above all, in understanding that it has value to them. Many teenagers don’t want their parents to like what they do, but they feel at peace when they know their parents understand that it is important to them. 

Don’t reduce what they like or share: 

Saying that the TikTok dances (which are very popular in the app) are useless or passing any type of judgment over what teenagers do online creates a negative charge around them. Think about it: if they seek validation through this content, imagine how they feel when their parents say it is ridiculous or diminish it in any way. 

It’s easy for teenagers to think lowly of themselves when they hear their parents talk about the things they like in a derogatory way. For example: “TikTok dances are awful and I like TikTok dances. Therefore, I’m awful.” Of course that is not true, but it is easy to fall into this trap since it’s an age in which their identity is intricately connected to their behaviors and interests. Moreover, this drives parents away from their kids. If parents are constantly demeaning the things you like, why would you still share your interests, the things you do, etc. with them?

By taking the measures mentioned above, it won’t be necessary to make any drastic decisions such as deleting all your kids’ social media. 

But If Your Kids’ Social Media Accounts Grow to Much Bigger Proportions Than You Would Like, What Can You Do?

If this happens, deleting your kids’ social media accounts is an option, but bear in mind that they might not like this decision and may feel that you do not value something they worked hard to build. We believe that it is possible to try a few measures before doing something drastic: 

  • Change their profile to private and reduce posting frequency – or even go on a hiatus. Yes, the account will still have many followers, but it will keep it from getting new ones. And if less content is created and posted, the number of followers will decrease as well. 
  • If there is any content you think is dangerous, make it clear for your kids that they cannot post it anymore. It is also worth deleting this type of content that you consider risky. 

If you still decide to delete their social media accounts, allow them to say goodbye to their public. Many teenagers consider their followers their support network or even their friends. Help your kids write a post or record a video saying goodbye to their followers and informing them of what is going to happen. 

We know kids don’t want their parents around during their teenage years, and that’s okay. But it is important to monitor and look after them without suffocating or invading their privacy. That’s what we hope for – for everyone to be able to deal with this in a healthier way. 

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Written by Luisa Scherer

Translated by Mariana Gruber