Cyberbullying on TikTok: Recognizing Signs and Ensuring Your Child’s Emotional Safety
TikTok has been in the news off and on these past couple of years. Mainly, the discussion keeps coming back to the issue of harvesting of user data. It’s possible that the Chinese government could access sensitive user information on devices where TikTok is installed.
As a result, the US Federal Government has banned the use of the app on all government devices and the State of Montana even passed legislation implementing a total ban on TikTok for its residents.
Although the privacy concerns are alarming, TikTok has also been in the news for its devastating effects on the mental health of its users, especially teens, and preteens who use the app for multiple hours per day. It’s highly addictive even for adults due to the constant barrage of short relevant and interesting videos catered for each individual user.
There are still many studies being done on the effects of social media on the mental health of teens and preteens. However, one of the biggest mental health problems concerning social media, and specifically TikTok, is a result of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is a major problem across all social media platforms, including TikTok. It’s estimated that there is a 64% chance that a TikTok user under the age of 18 will experience cyberbullying on the app. That is quite an alarming statistic given that roughly 32.5% of all TikTok users are between the ages of 10 and 19.
So, what exactly is cyberbullying and what does it look like on TikTok? Let’s answer these questions as well as discuss some of the ways to recognize if your child is being bullied online and what you can do to ensure their emotional safety.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a behavior that consists of repeated and intentional posting of photos, information, and/or rumors and lies about another person on social media and other online platforms. The posts can consist of live streams, videos, photos, text, and direct messages that are intended to be offensive and inflict psychological harm on an individual.
Victims of cyberbullying can often feel anxious, angry, depressed, embarrassed, scared, and sad. Additionally, victims of cyberbullying can receive threats to their safety and be the target of physical attacks.
All of these factors can be extremely damaging to an individual, especially an adolescent during their physical, emotional, and psychological development. The damage can be so great that adolescent suicides linked to cyberbullying have become a major concern.
According to an NIH-funded study of 10,000 adolescents, the participants who experienced cyberbullying in their lives were four times as likely to also report suicidal thoughts.
The worst part of cyberbullying is that a cyber-bully can send and share images, videos, and texts without ever physically facing the other person. The digital aspect of cyberbullying in a way removes the human aspect from the equation making cyberbullying incredibly easy to do for a bully who doesn’t need to witness or experience firsthand the consequences of the online abuse.
What does cyberbullying look like on TikTok?
Cyberbullying on TikTok can come in many forms. Whether it’s intimidation, verbal abuse, blackmail, or another type of cyberbullying, TikTok can be dangerous to children if certain precautions are not taken.
Additionally, cyberbullying not only can come from peers like other children from school or the neighborhood, but it can also come from strangers of any age from anywhere in the world. It is scary to think that an adult male in another country could be verbally abusing your teenage daughter and causing her to feel anxious or depressed about her looks.
The most common form of cyberbullying on TikTok comes from users commenting on content. When a person uploads a video onto the platform, users can leave comments. Although those comments can come with praise and support, often those comments can be mean, hurtful, and even dark. Negative comments about how someone looks or acts can be psychologically damaging, especially for people who are younger and may already suffer more from self-esteem and emotional issues.
Another form of cyberbullying on TikTok includes uploading pictures or videos of victims being abused in person. Bullies can live-stream or record a video of them verbally abusing and even physically assaulting another person for others to watch and participate in by leaving hurtful comments and spreading the content. When live-streamed, this form of bullying can be extremely dangerous as often adolescents can be motivated to take things too far when they are being egged on.
Lastly, some forms of cyberbullying on TikTok can be extremely harmful and take abuse to a whole new level. The same ways that cybercriminals use tactics such as social engineering, which has been one of the biggest cybersecurity-related risks in the past year, to gain the trust of unsuspecting victims can be used to gain the trust of your child to obtain personal information from them.
Information such as where they live, how old they are, where they go to school, or what their sexual orientation may be, can be used to bully, intimidate, or blackmail your child to do things they don’t want to do, or worse yet, actually put them in danger of kidnapping or sexual assault. Sexual predators may be able to “groom” your child for sexual abuse through TikTok by posing as someone of a similar age, with similar interests, or pose as someone they may admire.
What signs should you look for to recognize if your child is being bullied online?
The signs that your child may be suffering from cyberbullying on TikTok are similar to the signs you may see if they were suffering from any other type of bullying. They may seem more anxious, agitated, depressed, or sad, and essentially, they may not act like themselves. They can also seem avoidant and no longer interested in things that they normally love to do including spending time on TikTok, playing sports, and participating in other after-school activities.
Additionally, your child could make some comments about how they are feeling or that they are having problems with someone on TikTok which could be very revealing. Make sure to always listen to your child and read between the lines to help determine if they are hiding something from you such as being bullied online.
Also, if you know your child is using TikTok to create content, you may want to have your account so you can review comments that other users are making. As discussed before, the most common type of bullying that occurs on TikTok is through hurtful negative comments filled with insults, derogatory terms, and threats. By creating your account, you can actively see who is commenting on your child’s content and what they are saying.
What can you do if your child is being bullied on TikTok?
If your child is being bullied on TikTok, you may think the easiest thing to do is just delete the app. However, that is not always possible, especially if your child wants to continue to create content and participate in the TikTok community.
The best way to address cyberbullying on TikTok without deleting the app is to make the account private. If your child is under the age of 16, then the account should already be private, however, sometimes children lie about their age. Either way, by making a TikTok account private, your child will only receive direct messages from people they know.
With a private account, you can approve or deny follower requests as well as manage who is allowed to comment on your content. You can even use a comment filter to automatically filter out comments containing specific keywords that you indicate as offensive.
After you make your child’s TikTok account private, another thing you can do to help protect your child from cyberbullying on TikTok and other platforms is to install and use parental monitoring apps. There are many parental monitoring apps available that allow you to monitor who your child is talking to on social media, and what is being said, while even allowing you to create a list of trigger words that will send you a notification anytime your child sends or receives a message containing one of those words.
Lastly, if you suspect your child is being bullied on TikTok, it is time to open up the lines of communication to help them through this tough situation before it spirals out of control and lasting emotional and psychological damage is done.
About the Author:
Ryan Harris is a copywriter focused on eLearning and the digital transitions going on in the education realm. Before turning to writing full time, Ryan worked for five years as a teacher in Tulsa and then spent six years overseeing product development at many successful Edtech companies, including 2U, EPAM, and NovoEd.