Op-Ed: Greater parental controls and conversations are needed to keep children safe online

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, our children are facing a very different summer. With many camps, swimming pools, and events closed or cancelled, the pull toward social media and apps for entertainment is even stronger. One app, TikTok, has continued to grow in popularity, especially as we quarantine at home. 

As both a mother and the president of Texas PTA – the second largest state PTA in the nation, I know firsthand that many parents are concerned about our children spending so much time on these apps.

Parents may not know what to do with trends that arise from them, how to protect privacy, or block bad actors and cyberbullies looking to do harm.

This is why I was glad to see that TikTok recently released new safety features and parental controls, and is working with National PTA, the Family Online Safety Institute, and other partners. These new features can help inform parents about their children’s social media usage and talk about digital literacy as a family.

Of these features, I’m most encouraged about “Family Pairing.” It allows parents to guide their teens’ online experience and educate them about online safety and behavior.

Parents can now link their child’s TikTok account to their own and set controls, including screen time management, limit certain content based on age, and place restrictions on messaging. TikTok also disabled direct messages on accounts for users under 16, helping ensure the app’s youngest users are better protected.

TikTok also collaborated with National PTA on a helpful guide about the app, which describes key terminology and includes detailed steps to setting up an account and using the parental control features.

The most important parental control, however, is the ongoing conversations families have together about what kinds of sites and apps are appropriate. I encourage parents to explore TikTok, set up their own account, and follow creators the whole family can enjoy.

Familiarize yourselves with your teens’ favorite content and talk as a family about why understanding online safety is a crucial part of being a good digital citizen. There are great conversation starters and free tools available, such as PTA’s The Smart Talk.

No two families are the same, and each family has a different level of comfort with devices and social media – and that’s okay!

Social media and apps like TikTok can be a great way to stay connected, develop self-expression, and have a bit of fun – especially as coronavirus continues to keep us mostly at home. Singers and dancers, chefs and bakers, and artists and creators have all found a home on TikTok entertaining millions by creating a virtual community. As parents, let’s do our part to make sure our children enjoy the fun in a safe way by taking advantage of TikTok’s parental controls, and maybe even diving into the app ourselves.


Author: Sheri Doss, President, Texas PTA

Doss is President of Texas PTA, the second largest state PTA in the nation with over 520,000 members who champion for Texas students and schools year-round.


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