TikTok: The Sound of an App Stealing Your Kid's Life Away
Today we bring you a guest post by Collin Kartchner. Collin is a child advocate, social activist and founder of the world-wide movement #SavetheKids. Last year he spoke roughly 500 times at schools and communities across the US and Canada on the dangers of kids using smart phones & social media like Snapchat, TikTok, & Instagram, as well as the negative effects of video gaming and pornography. (See below for full bio).
Collin Kartchner unexpectedly passed away on October 20, 2020. Most importantly, he left behind his wife Lizzy and his four young children. Lizzy recently posted:
If he made an impression on your life, inspired you to change your direction to a clearer course even if it was hard, if he made you laugh, touched your heart... help him live on in you.
Though we have lost an amazing voice in protecting children, we can honor Collin's memory by continuing his mission to #Savethekids.
Have you ever been out in a public place, maybe a beach or shopping mall, and noticed a group of tween/teen girls who look like they’re all doing some form of strange, synchronized karate routine? Their eyes all glazed over as they hypnotically flail their arms and gyrate their hips together, as if they’re all summoning some sort of ancient demon? “This is odd” you think. “Maybe they’re being attacked by invisible bees?” There is no music you can audibly hear--but music is playing loudly all in their heads, like a seductive Pied Piper leading them all someplace scary.
Well that Pied Piper is called TikTok, and it’s leading our children off the cliff of their childhoods.
What is TikTok?
TikTok, formerly known as Musical.ly, is the latest in social media platforms taking over your kids’ life (and disturbingly, a lot of adults too.)
Like YouTube on LSD, TikTok is the most popular social media app where your kids can watch a never-ending stream of user-submitted videos. In order to see what’s next, you must swipe the screen downward. Scrolling TikTok feels like riding a train up a tunnel to a light at the end. That light might be a beautiful sunset, but it also might be an incoming freight train ready to crush your cranium. The only way to know is to keep...swiping.
Your sweet daughter tells you “But mom it’s just silly dances!” or “I’m gonna be TikTok famous!” as you roll your eyes and go back to checking the latest shouting match on Facebook. After enough begging you finally give in and give it to her. At least It’s keeping her entertained for hours and she seems happy while filming her 20th take of some strange dance alone in the kitchen, so you let things slide.
But soon you notice things start to change— she’s on it ALL the time. You wonder why she’s suddenly so tired and grumpy and find out most nights she’s scrolling TikTok until 2-3am. Her attitude has changed, the clothes she wears are looking much older than her age, and her language has turned into that of a sailor. She starts commenting to you or her friends how fat she looks or that she needs to go on a diet. It seems like the only thing she cares about in the world is this app. You feel like you’re losing your daughter to some unworldly being. That thing forcing your sweet little girl to grow up overnight is TikTok.
You also may have read recently in the news that TikTok has been getting some much overdue scrutiny. Countries like India and 50 others have recently banned Tiktok. The United States Military has banned it from all service members phones. Even large companies like Wells Fargo and others have banned this app, due to privacy concerns.
And then to top it off, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo are talking about banning it from the USA because “TikTok is owned by China and they’re spying on you!" (P.S. if you have any social media apps, they’re all spying on you, hugs.)
All of this sets off your parental instinct to do something, which you shove aside with the excuse “I don’t want her to get mad at me for taking it away,” or the worst excuse ever, “This is just how things are today, there’s nothing else I can do.”
The thing is, Tiktok isn’t just silly dances. Not even close. Especially not for a tween or teen girl.
For your young kids, TikTok is the thief of childhood.
Marketed to Kids, but NOT FOR KIDS!
For the past few months I have downloaded TikTok onto several new devices without actually setting up an account (you don’t need an account to scroll Tiktok). I spent hours scrolling the app, especially their “For You" page, which is similar to the “Discover” page on Snapchat or Instagram. This is where the app shows you videos they think you’ll like, something you as a user or parent cannot disable.
Within literal seconds, the first video I see is a 20 year old girl with every filter possible biting her lip while lip-syncing to lyrics so profane and vulgar I can’t even post them here. (Think the worst sexual comments you can think of, then add some F-words). This video has been seen tens of thousands of times. I’m stunned. I thought this app was rated 12+?!! Let’s keep scrolling.
The next video is a teenage boy making fun of his mom in the kitchen, then a video of a guy fishing. Relatively harmless. Next up are two 18-19 year old girls in the tiniest bikinis imaginable, turning their almost bare butts to the screen, lip syncing a song riddled with F-words while shaking their butts and breasts (a.k.a “dancing”). A couple videos later, it’s another young skinny female lip syncing the same lyrics as the first video, but this one has more views.
Pretty much every third or fourth video TikTok shows me is a raunchy video that would definitely not be considered okay for kids. Remember, I’m viewing as a new user with no account so they don’t know my age, gender, or location. Nor do they have any user profile created on me to know what I like, because I haven’t “liked” anything or searched certain hashtags, etc.
I download TikTok onto another new device. I still don’t set up an account where the app knows what age I am or what my interests are so there’s no algorithm yet telling it what content I want to see. I’m thinking the “For You” page might change to something a bit more family friendly (I mean the app says it’s rated for 12+, so a PG rating right?) but nope. Every few videos feature yet again another super skinny bikini-clad 18-22 year old woman lip syncing to F-words while dancing like strippers with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views. And this isn’t even the bad stuff they showed me. Not even close.
I have screenshots of a few hundred different videos that TikTok promoted on their “For You" page that would blow your mind. And these are promoted to unsuspecting users of any age. They are full of so much profanity and vulgar sexual content that I won’t even share to my 145,000 mostly-adult followers on Instagram because they’re so appalling.
And again, TikTok is rated 12+. That means the people who run TikTok believe their content is okay for kids 12 on up to consume. Imagine sending your 6th grader to a PG-rated movie with some of her friends and within minutes they’re being bombarded with F-words and some serious adult sexual content. Wouldn’t you be a bit upset? Maybe demand a refund, warn other parents on a Facebook post, or even write the production company? But this is happening all day every day on TikTok.
For Many Kids, TikTok is a Gateway to Porn
Of course TikTok has a huge problem with adult/pornographic content. One high school boy told me recently that “TikTok was the gateway to porn” for him and a lot of his friends. He said he was trying to break his years-long porn habit, but realized every time he scrolled TikTok it was like the app was almost anxious to show him pornographic stuff that would send him straight to a relapse.
For any parent reading this worried about pornography, most kids aren’t being exposed to porn for the first time directly from the porn sites, but from apps like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram. I bet if we looked at porn sites’ top referring apps (the app a user was on directly before typing in a porn URL), Tiktok would be near the top.
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And why do apps like Tiktok promote so much pornographic and adult content material to minors? BECAUSE NOTHING IS MORE ADDICTIVE. And if app engagement and user growth are more important than their user’s safety and mental health, then pornographic and sketchy content is their go-to. We live in a society where trees and whales are worth more dead than alive, and sadly to tech companies like TikTok, ad dollars and shareholder value are worth more than the safety of our kids. So if targeting adult content to minors gets them to keep coming back, so be it.
TikTok is a Master Class in Objectification and the Hypersexualization of Girls
Going right along with pornography, TikTok is also a Master Class in objectification. Endless videos teach our kids that girls only exist for the viewing pleasure of others.
Apps like TikTok teach girls that “they are not human beings, but humans being looked at.” --Dr. Lexie Kite, Beauty Redefined
If your daughter is on TikTok realize this: she is going to very soon start hating how she looks. Your sons, too. TikTok tends to promote the accounts and videos of girls dancing who are the skinniest and prettiest, the most “perfect” humans they can find. In fact, there was a recent news article exposing the fact that TikTok would suppress videos of “less attractive” or “overweight” or “disabled” users from their "For You" page so users wouldn’t see them. What’s wrong with this though? What is it teaching girls? Especially if they want to get likes—and maybe go viral? To be seen, heard, loved and get the acceptance and the attention which floods our brains with the dopamine we all crave, they need to look and act the way the people who go viral look and act. You better not just lose some clothes, but lose some weight too, sister. And all the filters used only contribute to this quest for perfection.
I cannot tell you how many messages I’ve received (you can read them on my Instagram) from tween/teen girls saying that watching TikTok made them HATE their bodies and led them to eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, or even worse, self-harm. Watching TikTok led girls to cut themselves or starve themselves. Please let that sink in.
Many teenage girls confided in me that there’s a huge problem with “ProAna” accounts on TikTok—accounts that “promote anorexia” as a healthy way to lose weight to get more likes. And it’s not just the teenagers confiding in me. I recently shared a message from a father who told me,
My 12 year old told us she was starving herself to look skinnier like the girls she saw on TikTok”.
Luckily, they caught her before she actually attempted suicide.
And I know so far I have mainly talked about how damaging TikTok can be to girls. But there’s plenty of harm it is doing to boys too, and not just from the onslaught of pornographic material they can see without even asking for it. Plan on your son being exposed to everything we already discussed, plus tons of videos that are extremely racist, anti-semetic, xenophobic, homophobic and also witnessing the hyper-sexualization of girls who they see and sometimes know and what impact that can have on them and how they treat women.
TikTok is Like Disneyland for Pedophiles
Another thing parents need to wake up to is that TikTok is like Disneyland for pedophiles. An app where underage girls are all dancing sexily with the least amount of clothes possible, many as young as 8 years old? This is a sex predators dream. Would you let your 10 year old stand up in a bikini to dance in front of a row of creepy old men to watch? No way. But that’s part of their audience on TikTok. And if you don’t believe me, go look at some of the comments on some “TikTok famous” kids’ dance videos left by grown, creepy men. Yikes.
When something trends on Tiktok kids watch it, mimic it, and then post their own version. Trends go way beyond lip-syncing to songs that are filled with F-words, the N-word, P-words, etc. Here are just some of the latest trends:
- Walking in naked on your boyfriend while he’s gaming to film his reaction.
- Talking about having sex with your step-brother is thrilling because it feels wrong.
- Making fun of kids who have autism.
- Getting your friends to jump and then two people knock his legs out from under him so that he cracks his skull open. People actually died from that.
- Watching the horrible movie “365” on Netflix--which is all about sexual abuse and rape--and then act those scenes out with your boyfriend and post videos of your bruises?
- Driving through McDonalds and ordering a shake from a female girl cashier, then when she gives it to you yell at her “Show us your t*tties!!” (yes, I’ve had teenage girls who work at McDonalds tell me that happened to them several times as of last week, and how degraded it made them feel.)
Welcome to TikTok.
As far as apps that have found a way to be as addicting as possible, especially to tweens/teens, Tiktok wins a gold medal. I get countless messages from tweens/teens saying that when they had TikTok they would stay up every night, sometimes until 4am, just mindlessly scrolling. It was like they could not put it down. And no matter what, they never felt better after. Whoever wrote TikTok’s algorithms earned that new yacht for sure! And if your tween/teen has TikTok and you let them keep their phone in their bedroom at night, your kid is not sleeping. And lack of sleep can lead your kids mental health down the toilet.
The reason it’s appropriately called TikTok— that’s the sound of the app stealing your kids’ life away… tick tock tick tock.
For months I have been encouraging the tween/teens who follow me to #DeleteTikTok, even if just for a few days, and tell me how they feel. The responses are always incredible.
“I was so addicted to TikTok, staying up most nights scrolling til 3 or 4am….now I am sleeping better and never felt more happy!”
“Deleting TikTok was the best decision I’ve ever made!”
One teen girl told me after deleting TikTok that
“The only thing worse that happened to me besides TikTok was my family members dying.”
Another woman now in her early 20’s, who was previously “TikTok famous” wrote to me,
“TikTok was my prison….”
Once she deleted it, she finally “felt free”.
Now look, I know just like with every social media platform, there’s plenty of good stuff, too. TikTok has some really funny videos and I’ll admit, some stuff I’ve seen made me laugh out loud. It’s also filled with a host of educational videos of all sorts and on all topics, something for everyone no matter what you’re interested in. I’ve seen people use it to call out different injustices done to other humans and bring things into light that were once in darkness. This generation of young people are incredible, and social media platforms give them a way to be heard and change the world that needs so much changing. It can be a great platform to give so many younger people a voice and a way to spread good ideas and movements.
However, my only concern here is the kids. I wasn’t asked to write about the good parts of TikTok, You don't need to be warned about that. I was asked to share what to watch out for if you’re raising children. With every platform there are plenty of good points, but for kids/tween/teens, especially girls, TikTok is as toxic as they come.
And I won’t get political on here with the reasons why the current United States administration wants to delete it, there’s plenty of other articles you can read about those reasons. I have no issues with what adults do with their time and what apps they choose to use— I worry about the kids. And the cons of this app far and away outweighs the pros.
“But my daughter just wants to learn the dances so she can feel cool with her friends.” Okay, you can learn those dances on Youtube!
“But she’s begging me nonstop because all of her friends have it!” Awesome, kids wanting things their friends have has been a thing since forever! Just say no :)
“But she’ll be mad at me if I take it away!” Oh no, kids getting mad at their parents for setting healthy boundaries? NEVER!
If you want to keep your kids safe and mentally healthy you have to do things differently than all the “other neighbors” and “other parents”.
And in the words of the great Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow, “Don’t take my word for it!” Go download the app yourself and take 10 minutes to scroll through the "For You" page. Go see what your kids will see or are seeing. Don’t just take my advice, or worse the advice of some 45 year old Influencer posting major cringe videos doing TikTok dances with her kids/husband saying “It’s just silly dances!”
If your kid wanted to go spend a few hours a day in some sketchy building with boarded up windows, graffiti, and loud music blaring inside, wouldn’t you maybe want to go check it out first to see what’s really going on inside? Don’t ask the unshowered tweakers stumbling out saying “PARTY TIME WOOOO!”
Tips on Talking With Kids About TikTok
So now you’ve read this, downloaded the app, and are now “woke”, PLEASE PLEASE don’t barge into your kids room and scream and yank the phone out of their hands and chuck it into the nearest rotating helicopter blades you can find. Do not freak out, do NOT overreact. All that teaches your kids is A.) you can’t be trusted and B.) they need to do a better job hiding things from you.
INSTEAD, a more effective way is to go on a drive with them and ask them about it. Get ice cream cones and just listen. Here are some conversation starters:
- How does TikTok make you feel?
- How do you feel about the videos you see?
- Does TikTok make you feel better about yourself or worse?
- If they could change parts of TikTok what would you change?
- Does spending time on it bring out your best self?
- What would you rather be doing than scrolling an app alone in your bedroom watching everyone else living their lives?
After some good discussion about how they feel, ask them to teach you how to ‘hit the woah’, then do one final video and chuck it into the trash where it belongs. Your kid will get their life and happiness back, feel free, and go live an intentional and meaningful life on their terms and not dictated by what the Pied Piper (a.k.a Tiktok) tells them to do.
And if you want to break your kids free from all social media and smartphone addictions/problems and let them stay kids as long as possible, get them a Gabb phone. No apps, no social media, no games, just call and text and a camera. I have four kids. My oldest is going into 9th grade and she has never had a phone or any social media--not even TikTok. GAH! And guess what? She’s happy, thriving, and she knows who she is…. actually she’s on the couch learning a new song on the guitar as we speak.
Do what you want as adults, but save your kids.
Just my $0.02.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent