Will Your Child’s TikTok Get Banned?

By Rebecca Paredes
April 24, 2024

Welcome to Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. This week:

  • 50% of parents say they look through their teen’s smartphone, and 47% set time limits on their phone use, according to Pew Research Center.
  • Apple parental controls aren’t foolproof. We troubleshoot common complaints with Apple Screen Time.
  • The APA’s latest health advisory calls out social media companies for not doing enough to protect kids.
  • Is TikTok getting banned? The House has officially passed a measure that would require TikTok to divest from its parent company. Here’s what happens next.

Digital Parenting

House passes measure to sell or ban TikTok

Another week, another round of TikTok drama: last week, the House passed a bill requiring the forced sale or ban of TikTok in the U.S. 

The bill, titled the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act (H.R. 7521), requires TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app’s U.S. operations within nine months (previously six, but the latest version of the bill extended the timeline with the potential to become a full year). Otherwise, much like dancing in Footloose, it would be illegal for TikTok to be available for download in U.S. app stores. 

Lawmakers claim that TikTok poses a national security threat because the Chinese government could potentially access the data of U.S. users and use the platform's algorithm to influence American public opinion. TikTok stated it has never been asked to provide U.S. user data to the Chinese government, wouldn’t do so if asked, and doesn’t tailor content based on political motives. 

What happens next? The proposal sailed through a House panel earlier this month, but faced an uncertain future in Congress until it was attached to a foreign aid package that will send funds to Ukraine and Israel, making it more likely to be passed in the Senate. If passed, the bill could land on President Biden’s desk in the next week.

This doesn’t mean TikTok will be banned in time for Mother’s Day. The platform would have nine months to find a buyer, although it’s not clear if TikTok’s algorithm — aka the thing that makes it so compulsively scrollable and knows exactly which ASMR cooking videos to show you — will come with it.

If your child asks about the TikTok ban: Explain the topic in a way that’s appropriate for your child. The platform hasn’t been banned, but lawmakers are asking TikTok to find a new owner because they’re worried about the way they’re treating our personal information. Now’s a great time to explain how social media algorithms work, why it’s important to think critically about the information we consume, and how a bill moves through Congress.

Parent Pixels is a biweekly newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. Want this newsletter delivered to your inbox a day early? Subscribe here.

APA calls on social media companies to take responsibility to protect youth

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released another report on social media, calling on tech companies to fundamentally redesign social media to correct harmful features that are unsafe for adolescents. 

Last year, the APA issued a health advisory on social media use in adolescence, in which the organization recognized the potential social benefits of social media but called out the need to protect kids from harmful content and problematic behaviors. This new report highlights the fact that companies and policymakers “still have made few meaningful changes” (translation: haven’t taken actions that’ll actually help kids). 

The report highlights the ways in which common features of social media, such as infinite scroll and notifications, negatively impact kids. It also suggests paths forward for companies and policymakers. Some takeaways:

  • Several proposed child online safety bills ban kids from using social media under a certain age. However, the APA argues that a single age isn’t associated with social media readiness — a child isn’t magically ready to use social media the moment they turn 15. Instead, social media use, function, and permissions should be tailored for kids. “Design features created for adults may not be appropriate for children,” the report states.
  • Parents should monitor their children's social media use. It's crucial to teach adolescents how to responsibly engage with these platforms, including how to limit exposure to harmful content such as that promoting negative body image or self-harm. Additionally, they should learn healthy behaviors to prevent social media from affecting their sleep and physical activity.
  • We need common-sense policies that require social media companies to make these platforms safer for their youngest users. Parental controls are helpful, but it’s not enough for tech companies to delegate responsibility to parents, app stores, or youth themselves. “That responsibility sits with the creators and purveyors of these technologies — the platform developers themselves,” said Mary Ann McCabe, PhD, part of the expert panel that put together the 2023 health advisory.

Practical Parenting Tips

Apple Screen Time not working? Monitoring tips and tricks

Apple Screen Time is a great tool to set limits and restrict certain activities. But Apple parental controls aren’t foolproof. We break down common complaints and new ways to keep your kiddo safe online.

Is Nintendo Switch safe for kids?

Whether your kid is already obsessed with their Switch or wants a console to play with friends, you should know that Nintendo Switch parental controls exist, and you can use them to set time limits, limit certain games, and more. 

Tech Talks With Your Child

How will you check in with your child this week? Save these conversation-starters for your next tech check-in. 

  1. "Have you noticed if using your phone before bed makes it harder for you to fall asleep or stay asleep?"
  2. “Has anyone said something in your texts or messages that made you feel uncomfortable or upset?"
  3. "How do you use social media to stay connected with your friends? Do you think it helps you keep in touch better?"
  4. "Have you discovered any new hobbies or interests online? What are they?"
  5. “What are some of your favorite accounts on YouTube or social media right now?”

What’s Catching Our Eye

🤔 What are social media algorithms, and how should you talk to your kids about them? BrightCanary CEO Karl Stillner writes for the Family Online Safety Institute about what parents should know. 

🚫 Meta has rolled out new tools to help protect against sextortion and intimate image abuse on Instagram and Facebook.

👀 Do you ever look through your teen’s smartphone? According to Pew Research Center, 50% of parents say they do, and 47% say they set time limits on their teens’ phone use.

📞 The latest Gen Z trend: dumbphones. In other words, flip phones are back (here are our recommendations). 

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