When Jennifer Gutterson’s daughter Alexa, 16, suggested they make a video together that Alexa could post on TikTok, the Plainview mom says she didn’t realize she was about to be featured on an app with hundreds of millions of users.
TikTok is all the rage right now among teens and even tweens. “I go on it every day. It’s a fun way to spend time,” Alexa says. She says she is hoping to become “TikTok famous,” and sometimes the short clips kids make featuring their parents or grandparents are so funny they go viral. The mother-daughter video shows Gutterson, 46, an elementary school aide, and Alexa, a high school junior, lip syncing “Play My Music” by the Jonas Brothers in the front seat of the family car while they make accompanying actions such as plugging their noses and dipping underwater.
“Even I like it,” Adele Tongish, a Melville mother, says of TikTok. Tongish is the creator of the website Digitallybalancedfamilies.com, which helps parents stay up-to-speed on their kids’ digital lives. “Some of the videos are amazingly creative. They’re lighthearted and silly and quick. I’ve spent lots of wasted time myself on TikTok. I can completely see why kids are obsessed.”
Not familiar with the app? Here are five reasons why your kids like it (see sidebar below about safety concerns):
1. If Vine and Musical.ly had a love-child, it would be TikTok. Parents might remember Vine, a now-defunct app that let users share a six-second-long looping video clip. Musical.ly, on the other hand, featured users lip-syncing to a favorite song. Musical.ly was purchased in 2017 by the Chinese company ByteDance, which has since folded it into its TikTok app. TikTok features 15-second-long lip-syncing clips, but they are usually more comical than the serious clips on Musical.ly, users say. And TikTok users create other types of self-deprecating videos in addition to lip syncing, to which they can add special effects such as fast motion and facial-feature graphics. “Kids can showcase their creativity, their talent and their emotions in any way they want,” says Varli Singh, 41, of Searingtown, who has 193,000 TikTok followers herself. She’s made TikTok videos with her daughters, Diya, 13, and Samaira, 9, including one to the song “Baby Shark” that’s had more than 6,000 likes.
2. It makes them laugh. “I like to watch a lot of people’s videos because they’re pretty funny,” says Ava Gutterson, 13, of Plainview. Cheryl Denecke of Levittown says her daughter, Kirstin, 8, loves hedgehog videos. “She’ll find cute ones,” Denecke says, such as a hedgehog floating on a pink flamingo tube in a swimming pool as lyrics from “Vacation” by the Dirty Heads play. “She saved it and keeps going back to it.” Jessica Carra, 13, of East Islip, says one of her TikTok videos of her lip syncing while sliding on ice went viral with more than 25,000 likes.
3. It encourages goofy trends and challenges. “Someone will create a dance and post it and then a lot of people will learn the dance and do it themselves,” Ava Gutterson says. One such viral trend involved the country song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X — kids begin playing it, and at a certain point take a drink of a liquid such as water that they’ve tagged with a sign that says “yee yee juice.” The magic drink instantly turns them into a cowboy or cowgirl. Because of the TikTok exposure, 20-year-old Lil Nas X has collaborated with Billy Ray Cyrus on a remix and has signed with Columbia Records.
4. It can be a bonding experience. Kirstin Denecke and her friends on her competitive dance team will make videos together. “It’s like a team-building kind of thing, that’s why I like it,” her mom says. Says Alexa Gutterson: “If my friends and I are bored on a bus ride, we’ll make a video. It’s kind of a connecting thing.” In addition to making videos when they’re physically together, friends can also make “duets,” which allows two people who make separate videos to morph them into a side-by-side composite.
5. It gives them what they like. The app tracks videos that users like and then suggests similar videos so that users don’t have to wade through a lot of clips to find ones that interest them. Users can also search for challenges and trends using hashtags or for individual users by their profile names.
Music is hot on TikTok
TikTok has launched its first star, country-hip-hop rapper Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” currently sits at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. But he certainly won’t be the last, as the short-video social media app explodes in popularity, especially among young fans eager to find new music. Here’s a look at who might be next:
Why Mona: The duo of Unlike Pluto and “Hamilton” star Joanna Jones dreamed up a wild remake of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” that spawned a dance challenge and may likely be TikTok’s next big hit.
Bonde R300: The catchy soundtrack to the #OhNananaChallenge, with its toe tapping and fancy footwork, comes from the Brazilian DJ and his remix of “Oh Nanana.”
Joji: The Japanese-Australian singer-producer already knows about YouTube famous, but his focus is music now, with the dreamy R&B of “Slow Dancing in the Dark,” which somehow became the soundtrack for the #MicrowaveChallenge, where people rotate on the floor as if they were stuck in a microwave.
Kero Kero Bonito: The British band, led by Japanese singer Sarah Midori Perry, has already built a reputation as an indie-dance act. But the trio’s pretty single “Flamingo” has spawned numerous inclusivity challenges and plenty of face painting on TikTok.
What parents should know
Adele Tongish of Melville, who created the website Digitally Balance Families to help parents stay on top of their kids’ screen usage, calls the TikTok app “mostly benign.” However, there are issues parents should be aware of if their kids are using it.
While the app is meant for ages 13 and older, parents should be aware that younger kids can easily fudge their age to create accounts. Earlier this year TikTok had to pay a multi-million dollar fine in the United State due to allegations that it illegally collected personal information from children younger than 13.
The app is a form of social media, and when kids create an account, the default setting is public, which means anyone can comment on their videos and message them directly. Users need to manually set the account to private if they want to be sure that only their approved friends can interact with them.
There have been concerns about sexual predators and bullying online, and about inappropriate content, as with other social media apps, Tongish says. The Indian government has asked Apple and Google to block TikTok over concerns it could expose children to sexual predators, pornographic content and cyberbullying. TikTok is appealing.
Parents should consider whether to allow kids to use their own names. Cheryl Denecke’s daughter, for instance, uses her dance nickname, and Denecke monitors her daughter’s participation. Using a real name can also open kids up to college admissions counselors and future employers seeing their content, says social media safety expert Josh Ochs, who runs the Los Angeles-based website Smartsocial.com and has traveled to Long Island to speak on at local schools.
Ochs says he also is concerned that kids’ data are in the hands of a company from another country. “Apps in other countries may have more lenient privacy rules, which would allow them to share your student’s data with others,” Ochs says.
Ochs recommends that parents create an account and be on the same apps that their children use, so that they understand how the apps work and so that it opens up a dialogue when kids see something inappropriate posted on an app. “Every app is dangerous if parents allow their kids to be on the app, receiving messages from friends and strangers, and parents aren’t there to monitor their activity,” he says