If you have a teenager or if you’ve spent time around one lately, chances are high that you’ve heard about the new social media craze, TikTok. With over 500 million users worldwide, TikTok is quickly taking over as one of the top social media platforms and is particularly beloved by teenagers and Generation Z.
Because the app’s target audience is younger, many adults may have never even heard of TikTok or at most, would consider themselves unfamiliar with it. However, its huge prevalence among teenagers is the very reason why it’s so important for those of us who are ministering to teenagers (and especially those who are raising teens) need to take note of what’s happening on TikTok.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a newer worldwide social media platform that has only been around for a few years and was previously called Musical.ly in the United States. Essentially, it’s an app where users can share short-form videos of themselves lip syncing and acting out funny skits, or even participating in the viral challenges that often start within the app.
Unlike Instagram and other previous social media platforms, TikTok isn’t full of curated content or flawless photos, rather it’s a place where silliness is valued and where humor will get you far. If you spend any time scrolling on the app’s “For You” page (a feed of the most popular content), it’s not hard to see that TikTok has its own unique culture and brand of entertainment. However, just like all social platforms, the underlying goal for TikTok users remains the same: for others to see and like their posts.
The Dangers of TikTok
As with any social media account, there are dangers and if you are a parent of a child on social media, it’s crucial that you keep an eye on their online activity. Some of the music played in TikTok videos is often based on popular mainstream music and therefore often has inappropriate language and sexual content. While this kind of content certainly isn’t isolated to TikTok and can ultimately be found on any social app, it’s important to understand its prevalence on TikTok. Similarly, because dancing is such a big part of TikTok, it’s not difficult to find videos of suggestive dancing on the app.
In addition, some of the challenges on TikTok have also been considered dangerous and have been warned against by police and news outlets as their popularity has risen. Challenges on TikTok are created when a video takes on popularity and other users try to recreate the video. While many of these challenges aren’t dangerous, some like the penny challenge (where people partially plug in a phone charger and try to slide a penny into the gap between the charger and the wall socket) and the skull breaker challenge (where the name of the challenge is explanation enough) have the potential to cause serious injury.
Should teenagers be on TikTok at all?
Ultimately, these dangers don’t necessarily mean that teenagers shouldn’t be on TikTok, but that teens who are on the app should understand the importance of discernment. Not all videos are worth watching and not all challenges should be participated in. In reality, only those who know a teenager best can determine whether he or she has the discernment needed to use TikTok safely and without engaging with inappropriate content.
It’s also important to note that if you’re looking to use the app as safely as possible, take time to understand the security settings. While the app’s default is to set your account to public, it can be a helpful safety precaution to change the account to private so that videos can’t be seen or commented on by strangers. Strangers will also not be able to send direct messages when the account is private.
How to Minister in the Midst of the TikTok Craze
As student ministry volunteers and leaders, it’s important to acknowledge TikTok and other social media platforms and help students gain the discernment they need to grow up in a world saturated with social content. Helping students understand the effects that some content can have on their spiritual and emotional well-being is so important to helping them make good decisions while on social media apps like TikTok. We can easily minister to students in some of the most practical ways by helping them understand the importance of healthy social media boundaries and the effects of excessive screen time, as well as not searching for approval and value in the amount of likes or followers they have.
Finally, as we minister to teenagers, it’s so important to educate ourselves on the things that are filling their culture and have spiritual conversations with them about the big issues that come up. This is why the TikTok craze is something we can’t ignore as we minister to teens. Talk to the teenagers in your life about discernment and healthy ways to use the app and talk to their parents about it too.
Ultimately, don’t ignore the craze of TikTok because you’re unfamiliar with it or because you don’t approve of it. Instead, educate yourself on its pitfalls and find ways to minister to students who have fallen into them.
Taylor Cage is a Nashville native, currently living in Oklahoma City with her husband, Baron, who serves as a student pastor at Trinity Baptist Church. After college, she spent three years as a Girls Minister and she’s passionate about building gospel-centered community among women of all ages. Taylor is the Social Media Coordinator for Well-Watered Women and a regular contributor for the Lifeway Girls blog. Most days you can find her writing about God’s Word with a cup of coffee in hand or chasing around her new Goldendoodle, Posie. Connect with Taylor: Instagram