When Should Kids Get TikTok? Here’s What Experts Say

what age should kids get tiktok girls dancing universal
Westend61/Getty Images

It used to be that Sunday morning cartoons and the Oregon Trail were the main things on any kids’ technological radar; followed, of course, by the coming-of-age privilege that was MTV music videos and MSN Messenger. But these days? It’s the Wild West out there and many millennial parents find themselves grappling with tough choices regarding social media use and the effect it has on the growing and oh-so impressionable mind.

So at what age should kids get TikTok? We can smell your anxiety from here, which is why we put a digital safety expert, family therapist and clinical social worker on the hot seat instead. Read on for more about the risks, benefits and parenting strategies that experts have identified with regard to this immensely popular app (you know, so you can do a little better than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best).

Meet the Experts:

  • Katie Greer is a digital safety expert who travels the globe educating students, parents, and global corporations about technology and all things digital safety.
  • Jillian Amodio is a clinical social worker, parenting expert and founder of Moms for Mental Health.
  • Emily Simonian is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Head of Clinical Learning at Thriveworks.

PureWow: At what age (if any) should children be allowed to have access to TikTok and under what conditions?

KG: There really is no magic age when it comes to this, but TikTok is a content house unlike anything I have ever seen before. Additionally, while there is inappropriate content all over the web and in apps, TikTok seems to have a concentrated amount of it which is really problematic for young children. Federal regulations require kids be at least 13 to be on social media—and given the content I see, I’d say that’s even too young.

JA: Age is not always a very useful measure of whether or not someone is able to use social media sites like TikTok safely and effectively. Maturity, personality, trustworthiness, relations with family, device access and parental controls, supervision, and critical thinking skills are all better measurements to go by. For this reason, readiness for access to TikTok is going to vary family by family and even child by child. Kids need to be able to assess whether content is true and safe. There are many disturbing trends and outright falsities that are shared through social media sites, and critical thinking skills are necessary to sort through what is true, false, and what might be somewhere in between.

ES: This is a decision that every family will have to make according to their own values, expectations, parental comfort level, and the maturity level of the child. There isn't one correct answer. If your child is able to understand the concepts they might see on TikTok and you feel that the concepts are age-appropriate, that could be an indicator that they are "ready" to view content under whatever conditions the parent prefers. 

PureWow: What are some of your chief concerns when it comes to allowing children to have access to TikTok? 

KG: When it comes to posting content, I think that can be really fun (although there are alternatives, and it should be done with privacy settings in place). However, when it comes to viewing content, if you’re not searching, then the FYP (for you page) can pass anything by users’ pages, including sex and drug-related content. On other sites, you often have to be actively searching for this type of content in order for it to pass by your page, but that’s not the case on TikTok and it’s a major problem.

JA: In creating videos, we have to worry about kids giving away identifying information—even accidentally, like their location in the background of a video—or creating content that could make them a target for things like abuse, stalking and sexual exploitation. We also have to make sure that kids are not intentionally or unintentionally engaging in creating content that could be harmful, hurtful or otherwise meet the criteria for cyberbullying. When consuming content, we have to worry about things like exposure to violence, material that they might not be developmentally able to process, and content that is untrue or unsafe. There have been many TikTok challenges that have caused injuries and death, and kids need to be aware that these dangers exist.

ES: Certainly viewing content that is not age-appropriate could be a concern for most parents, as well as the idea of children putting themselves "out there" for others to see. Many parents fear that children will lose their innocence, be negatively influenced or even be bullied. 

PureWow: Is there any upside to allowing kids to use TikTok?

KG: I really can’t think of the need for any child to use TikTok alone. I think if the parent is using it to spread information about a cause or to share great ideas, then it can be OK for the child to be involved, but not a child alone.

JA: This is going to vary family by family. Personally, as a parent and as a mental health professional, I have trouble finding benefits that outweigh the risks. Sure, there is some uplifting and inspiring content, but that doesn't negate the content that is more damaging. There is of course the potential for fitting in and achieving social status, but at what cost? These short compilations with endless scrolling also create a playground ripe for social media addiction and trouble with focus, attention span and concentration. 

ES: Allowing kids to use TikTok could be a lesson in trust and responsibility. Parents can learn to trust that their kids are using TikTok under the conditions they’ve agreed upon, and kids can learn responsibility when it comes to social media privileges. Using TikTok can also create teachable moments and foster conversations about important topics that may not come up organically otherwise. 

PureWow: Are there any parental controls available on TikTok to help families ensure that children are using the platform in a safe and appropriate way?

KG: Yes, although they’re unreliable. “Family Pairing” is available on TikTok, which allows parents to limit the amount of time their kids are on TikTok, and restrict things like private direct messaging and certain content. However, kids often have multiple accounts where these controls wouldn’t apply. Also, filters (which TikTok automatically applies based on the registered age of the user) are entirely unreliable as users are aware that filters are in place and often circumvent them.

JA: I am not aware of controls within TikTok itself although there are likely filters for content, there are many parental controls that are device specific however that can block, or restrict access to apps and place time limits on screen time, as well as report on device usage. 

ES: Yes, TikTok lists these control settings under "Digital Wellbeing." Parents can set screen time limits and prevent videos that are marked as "restricted" from being viewed.

PureWow: Aside from the parental controls on the platform itself, are there other strategies that families can use to ensure safe and appropriate use of TikTok?

KG: I think the best way to do it is through a parental account, when possible. I have two kids, 10 and 11, and they aren’t allowed to have their own accounts, but we don’t live in a bubble. I will often sit down with my kids and go through my TikTok and have some really good conversations about content we see. I think it’s important to give them the tools to be successful on these platforms when it comes time. 

JA: I highly recommend supervision with access to apps that have been proven problematic. I encourage families to do a device check-in, ask what their kids have been looking at and do it in a way that encourages conversation, rather than in a manner that comes across as accusatory. Continue to go over what it means to be a good digital citizen, and encourage critical thinking in all areas of your children's lives. Placing time restrictions and boundaries around phone use also decreases the risk of creating an obsession and addiction. 

ES: Families might try using TikTok together, at first. Understanding what your child is interested in can help ease parents' minds—sometimes the content they're seeking to find is not only innocent, but truly interesting and beneficial for kids' sense of creativity, humor, and fun—and it will also ensure that kids are respecting the conditions and boundaries their parents have set, because close monitoring will help them understand the seriousness of using the platform. Once trust and responsibility is established, parents might slowly begin giving their child more time and space to view content on their own.

Bottom Line

As is so often the case with tough parenting choices, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Indeed, we can’t provide you with a definitive guide to the appropriate use of TikTok (or any social media platform, for that matter), but hopefully reading up on some expert opinions will help you discover and follow your own best instincts. It’s worth noting that all sources seem to agree that age is not nearly as important as vigilant and mindful parenting when it comes to this type of thing (so you should probably activate the parental controls and lay down some very clear ground rules before you proceed).

We Asked Therapists and Parents: How Early Is Too Early for Kids to Start Dating?

purewow author

Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...