If you have a child on TikTok, you need to know about the new way predators are grooming kids and how to protect them.
App Store Description: “TikTok is a global video community. We make it easy for you to watch awesome short videos AND you can also make your own videos by capturing those funny and memorable moments to share with the world. Spice up your videos with our special effects filters, fun stickers, and so much more. Life’s moving fast, so make every second count.”
So, what is happening? Over the past three weeks, I’ve been hearing about children being groomed by an online sugar daddy. What is a TikTok Sugar daddy? It goes something like this: An adult finds a cute kid on TikTok, privately messages them, and offers to send them money via Venmo for a custom video. The initial offer is very innocent. They may ask the child to send them a video of the child singing a song, playing an instrument, or performing a dance move for ten dollars. They money is then sent to a child’s Venmo account. After a while, with money regularly rolling in, the requests turn sexual. The “sugar daddy” asks for the child to sing a song in their underwear, or less, for more money.
How to Keep Your Kids Safe
Should my child have this app?
If your child is under the age of 13, then NO. The minimum age to have an account is 13-years-old. Based on my experience, I would wait until your child is 16-years-old before letting them use it.
TikTok has some parental controls. If your child is going to use this app, you must turn them. Can your child turn them off or change their privacy settings at will? Yes, they can. This might be a deal-breaker for most Cyber Safety Cop parents.
If you allow your child to have a TikTok account, and you think they have the maturity to navigate the issues we have already identified, then you should give them clear expectations on using this app.
Set up the parental controls as described above.
Your child’s account should be private, and the only people that are allowed to follow them should be someone they know in real life – a friend or family member.
Try to monitor what your child is doing on this and other social media apps. You can download TikTok on your phone and log in with your child’s username and password, and “see” what they are doing. I would also physically drop in on your child time-to-time and watch them interact with the app. Remember, you get the behaviors that you inspect, not what you expect. If you never looked in your child’s room and expected them to make their bed every day, would they? Accountability is key!
Talk to You Child About Safe Relationships
You should have a frank and open conversation about predators and online sexual exploitation. Tell them that it is never appropriate for a strange adult to have a relationship (online or in-person) with a child. It is never appropriate for an adult to give a child a gift without the permission of their parents.
Here is the bottom line with TikTok and all other social media apps that connect your child with other people: stranger interaction is the core of all online predatory crimes against children. If you can manage this issue, either through parental controls, talking to your child, actively monitoring, and you can sleep at night, then it will probably be okay. If you can’t, then it probably shouldn’t be on your child’s device. Maybe it’s a maturity or age issue. Tell your child, it’s not a “no” forever, just a “no” right now.
Go to a free parent seminar hosted at a nearby school. This seminar will change the way you look at your child’s digital world and give you a step-by-step game plan to make your child safe. If you would like to host a parent seminar at your school, fill out the contact form to learn more.
Purchase the book, “Parenting in the Digital World” on Amazon.com. It will take you step-by-step through the process of making your child safer online.
Install Bark on your child’s phone. Bark will passively monitor your child’s social media and let you know if there is a problem. Use the promo code “cybersafetycop” to get 15% off.
*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Thank you!
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit.
Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.