A new report suggests that 16% of all children in the UK aged between 3 and 4 years old are currently using the TikTok video sharing app. This rises to 33% of all kids aged 5-7.

What is the problem?

The TikTok terms of service are clear – no one under the age of 13 is permitted to create an account of view videos. Similar to other online services (YouTube, Facebook, Google etc) TikTok actually has a team of moderators who identify and remove content posted by young children.

However, toddlers are unlikely to be signing up for their own TikTok user accounts. Instead they will be using their parent’s phones to watch videos which are signed into a valid adult user account.

There are two problems with this however. First, TikTok is strictly for use by over-13s. Accounts are not meant to be shared or accessed by underage people. If TikTok suspects this has been happening, they may cancel the parents account and permanently ban them from the service.

Second, the age limit exists because TikTok users sometimes share content that is unsuitable for young children. TikTok is legally obliged to protect youngsters from these videos (such as promoting eating disorders, violence or pornography). Banning under-13s is a very simple way to ensure they can meet their commitments. Parents who allow their toddlers to use TikTok are taking a risk that their children may be exposed to something inappropriate – even if it is by accident.

There’s a bigger problem…

But it’s not just the content on TikTok that may be problematic. Child development experts are increasingly concerned that the use of ultra-short format media is actually damaging kids’ learning abilities.

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They have found that children are now struggling to focus on longer content – like films and television programs. Almost all children are using a second device – like a tablet or phone – at the same time as watching TV or trying to learn. This is having a serious negative impact on their education as they are unable to concentrate for long enough to grasp what they are being taught.

Over the longer term, this inability to concentrate will have a significant negative impact on their educational achievement. Some will struggle in their exams, failing to reach their full potential at school.

How to stop underage TikTok use

As any adult knows, social media is quite addictive – even for kids. This means that any parent whose toddler already uses TikTok will face a struggle trying to get them to kick the habit. However, the rules are clear – under-13s are forbidden from using the platform. Encouraging children to break the rules will have serious consequences – your account may be deleted. Worse still, your child may suffer long term problems at school by constantly engaging with shortform content.

For older kids who have their own devices, consider installing a tool like Panda Parental Control. This app allows you to better understand how your kids are using their devices and help them to avoid harmful or unhelpful content.

With Panda Parental Control you can block age-restricted websites and apps for instance, instantly solving the problem of signing-up to services before they are old enough. You can also set time limits to help kids stay off their devices at school or when they are supposed to be doing their homework.

You can learn more about Panda Parental Control and how it will help you better protect here.