Popular short-form video app TikTok is giving parents and guardians in the U.S. new ways to curtail how teenage kids use the app, including what they can view and who can direct-message them. And at the end of April, TikTok will completely turn off the ability for users 16 and younger to send or receive DMs.
Starting April 30, TikTok will automatically disable direct messages for registered accounts under the age of 16, senior director of trust and safety Jeff Collins wrote in a blog post. In the U.S., TikTok will roll out Family Pairing over the next few weeks, according to Collins. The company first launched the parental controls in the U.K. in February.
TikTok’s Family Pairing feature lets a parent to link their account to their children’s accounts. At that point, parents can enable “Restricted Mode,” to block content “that may not be appropriate for all audiences,” according to the company. Asked to elaborate, a TikTok rep said “It essentially enables you to limit videos that you might find uncomfortable or unsuitable for yourself or your kids” across multiple categories.
In addition, Family Pairing will let parents set screen-time limits for how much time teens can spend on TikTok each day. And for kids 16 or older, TikTok will let parents restrict who can send messages to their kids’ accounts — or turn off direct messaging completely.
TikTok’s enhanced parental controls come a little over a year after it was fined $5.7 million to settle FTC allegations that it illegally collected personal info from children. That centered on predecessor app Musical.ly, which China’s ByteDance acquired in 2017 and then migrated Musical.ly’s users over to the TikTok platform.
Under the FTC settlement, TikTok agreed to remove all videos from the app posted by children under the age of 13 and rolled out a new restricted version of the app for younger children.
In addition to Family Pairing, TikTok offers other resources for families, including educational safety videos and parental guides (like its Top 10 Tips for Parents). “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,” Collins said in a statement. “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.”
Collins said in developing new kid-safety features and policies, TikTok has collaborated with online safety organizations including the Family Online Safety Institute, ConnectSafely, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the National PTA.
In a statement, National PTA executive director Nathan Monell said the group “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.”