By Jeff Collins, Trust & Safety, San Francisco Bay Hub

More than ever, families are turning to internet platforms like TikTok to stay entertained, informed, and connected. That was, of course, happening before COVID-19, but it has only accelerated since the outbreak began and social distancing brought families closer together. The embrace of platforms like ours is providing families with joint tools to express their creativity, share their stories, and show support for their communities. At the same time, they are often learning to navigate the digital landscape together and focused on ensuring a safe experience.

With families in mind we've taken a number of steps over the past year to improve and enhance our teams, policies, controls, and educational resources. We've made our policies more transparent and accessible, grown our trust and safety teams, built upon the resources in our Safety Center, and partnered with leading online safety organizations including the Family Online Safety Institute, ConnectSafely, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the PTA.

Today, we are advancing our commitment to building for the safety of our users by introducing Family Pairing, which allows parents and teens to customize their safety settings based on individual needs. Family Pairing enhances our suite of safety tools and complements our work to provide greater access to product features as users reach key milestones for digital literacy. It is part of our continued work toward providing parents better ability to guide their teen's online experience while allowing time to educate about online safety and digital citizenship.

Many users start their creator journey at 13 and are introduced to a wider array of app options for download, making it a critical time for teens and their families to learn about digital literacy and smart online behavior. In addition to Family Pairing, TikTok already offers a number of resources to support users on this journey, including educational safety videos and parental guides like our Top Ten Tips for Parents. We also encourage parents to talk with their teens about the code of conduct outlined in our Community Guidelines to help them understand what responsible community behavior looks like, how to identify and report content that may be in violation, and what it means to be positive digital community members.

Family Pairing, which will be rolling out over the coming weeks, will allow a parent to link their TikTok account to their teen's and set controls including:

  • Screen Time Management: Control how long your teen can spend on TikTok each day. In addition, TikTok has partnered with top creators to make short videos that appear right in the app and encourage users to keep tabs on their screen time. These fun videos use the upbeat tone our users love while offering a suggestion to take a break and do something offline, like read a book.
  • Restricted Mode: Limit the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Even without Family Pairing enabled, parents can help their teen set Screen Time Management and Restricted Mode by visiting the app's Digital Wellbeing controls at any time.
  • Direct Messages: Restrict who can send messages to the connected account, or turn off direct messaging completely. With user safety in mind, we have many policies and controls in place for messaging already – for example, only approved followers can message each other, and we don't allow images or videos to be sent in messages. Starting April 30, we will be taking those protections one step further as relates to younger members of our community, and automatically disabling Direct Messages for registered accounts under the age of 16.

We are committed to giving parents insight into, and control over, how their teens use TikTok and helping facilitate important conversations within families about the responsible navigation of digital platforms. We believe these options promote a safer and more trustworthy experience for our users of all ages, but our progress in this area is also never finished. We look forward to working with all our stakeholders as we continuously seek to improve through new features and resources to help our community manage their digital experience. 

From our partners

“As a dad of two teens, I see how TikTok enables them to express their thoughts, feelings and creativity; have fun; and connect with their friends, especially in our current environment. At the same time though, it’s important for me—as it is for all parents—to help my teens be responsible and safe creators. National PTA applauds TikTok for listening to parents’ needs, expanding its age-based features, and creating Family Pairing. Supports like these will give families a greater sense of confidence and comfort, and will help them guide their teens to make good decisions online.” 

Nathan R. Monell, CAE, executive director of the National PTA

"We're grateful to TikTok for their leadership in prioritizing safety and education because we believe those efforts are a critical step in helping families safely navigate the online world."

John Clark, president and CEO of NCMEC

"ConnectSafely believes that parents should work with their families to establish digital literacy milestones. The Family Pairing and age-based features embedded into TikTok help families build a path to safer online behavior and to become a good digital citizen."

Larry Magid, CEO and co-founder of ConnectSafely

"FOSI's aim is to inform and empower parents - that's why we developed the 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting, and many other resources to navigate the online world with kids. We're thrilled to see that TikTok's age-based features will offer families important guidance on key digital literacy milestones and the importance of being a good digital citizen." 

Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute

Note: National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service. No endorsement is implied.