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Why I Don't Let My Kids Use TikTok And Neither Should You

Just when we thought TikTok trends couldn’t get any worse, the latest challenge of 2020 has already proved us wrong.

If you're not across it, the latest viral fad features app users eating cereal out of each other’s mouths, and I am here to tell you, I am not okay with this. In fact, after regrettably watching a couple of videos I can confirm I did, in fact, throw up a little in my mouth.

The Cereal Challenge continues on from TikTok’s list of ever-increasingly abstract and bizarre challenges, ranging from the generally-harmless-and-cool dance challenges such as Kill This Love and the Mr Bean Dance Challenge, to the what-the-actual-f**k-is-happening Viral Chair and Flamingo challenges, to the somebody-could-die-here Throwing Things In The Air and Eye Bleach challenges -- with this week’s Cereal Challenge added to the list of most-likely-to-end-in-death-by-asphyxiation.

With more than 500 million TikTok users worldwide, it’s not surprising challenges such as these are dominating internet trends. But is it really just harmless fun? And just because everyone is doing it, should we be doing it, too?

More importantly, should we be allowing our children to participate in challenges that are not only plain stupid, but downright dangerous? And as parents, should we only be concerned about TikTok’s challenges, or should we be looking into other potential concerns about the app?

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A while ago my 13-year-old daughter asked if she could get the app, because, like, all her friends had it and she was the only one who didn’t. Not wanting to break my Worst Mother In The World streak, my immediate response was a hard no. Granted, there are times I like to exert power over my children simply for no other reason than to remind them who is actually in control, but as a tech-savvy millennial and parent of four teenagers, this was one app I had already concluded -- questionable challenges aside -- was one I didn’t want my children to have.

On the surface, TikTok looks squeaky-clean: a creative app where users can “capture and share moments that matter in your life”. And I have to admit, the concept itself is kind of fun and quirky and would have been way cooler as a teen than putting on Tiffany concerts for your parents and their friends. However, there continues to be overwhelming concerns about the safety of the app, and with good reason.

Firstly, privacy. Last year, the Chinese version of the app rolled out a facial recognition search, allowing you to drag a box over the face of another user, which then pulls up any other videos that particular user appears in. It might seem like a cool feature but is actually subjecting all users to behind-the-scenes facial recognition analysis. In other words, should this feature be implemented across all countries, Chinese developers of the app will have access to all your child’s data at the mere glance of a face. Creepy.

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While its Facial Recognition system may not be something we need to worry about just yet, there is still concern over the general privacy of children using the app. TikTok’s accounts are public by default and even though you can set your child’s account to private, their profile photo, username and bio still remain visible to all users.

There continues to be overwhelming concerns about the safety of the app, and with good reason. (Image: Getty)

And even if your child’s account is locked down, they still have access to the content of all public accounts -- a cause for concern with TikTok widely being known to feature sexually suggestive and even pornographic content. Developers of the app have also come under fire for enabling sexual predators to remain on the site, and having one of the least-effective filtering systems of inappropriate content across all the social media platforms.

Which leads to another concern -- the hyper-sexualisation of children using the app. In her article, Parents, Please Be Aware Of The Dangers Of Tik Tok, Mindy Sherman tells of logging into TikTok through her 11-year-old daughter’s account, and being horrified with what she saw.

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“Barely any of you are watching your child’s videos or videos they are in with their friends. Would you be surprised to know that your daughter is dancing and mouthing words to songs with the N word, P word, F word, every awful word and phrase you can imagine? Would you be horrified if your daughter posted one about being a slut and getting f&$ked in the p$&@y? That’s just the beginning of what I’ve seen.”

Further to this, one of the most popular challenges on TikTok in 2019 was the Take It Off Challenge, where users were encouraged to dance to a specific song while discarding layers of clothing. Otherwise known as a strip tease. If there’s a line, I feel we just stuffed our mouth full of cereal and choked on it.

The 'Take It Off' TikTok challenge went viral last year. (Image: YouTube)

As TikTok continues to spit out its absurd challenges, we need to consider whether this current dare culture is healthy for our children to be participating in. Have we taken it too far? Is it time to put a stop to it before someone gets hurt? What will it take for enough to be enough -- death by cereal suffocation, or something worse? Today’s challenges might seem like harmless fun -- but tomorrow might be a different story.

At the very least, we need to be vigilant in knowing what apps our children are using, and in teaching them how to use them safely, as well as having conversations around things like challenges. Ask them questions: Have you ever tried one, or wanted to? What could go wrong? What will you achieve by doing the challenge? What will happen if you don’t do the challenge?

At the very most, we need to be parents who aren’t afraid to say no to our children. Even if they hate us. Especially if they hate us. Who knows -- when they aren’t found coughing up a mouth full of cereal they might even thank us for it.