We live in an age where social media is synonymous with adolescents' lives. Popular social media platforms like TikTok offer young girls a space to express themselves creatively, connect with others, and explore various trends on their social networks. These formative experiences are not new experiences for this generation, they are just being explored in broader, less filtered and more responsive ways than the Dolly magazines, Plaster Fun Houses and Blue Light Discos of my era. However, as parents, it's essential to understand the role of TikTok in our daughters' lives and guide them through the online world with reflection, responsibility and the power of choice and control.

The impact of TikTok – liberation or concern?

The allure of TikTok lies in its bite-sized, visually appealing content that resonates with the short attention spans of young users. A 2020 study results showed that using TikTok can act as a form of liberation for girls, allowing them to challenge traditional gender norms and find their voices in a creative manner. The platform's algorithm-driven content delivery introduces girls to a diverse range of content, fostering a sense of exploration and openness. With all algorithmic content, it is important to remember that content on TikTok is individualised to the user. Search for more positive things, find more positive things. Remind your daughter that they set the tone for their algorithm.

The positives behind TikTok: creativity and community

TikTok encourages girls to explore their creative sides by making videos on a plethora of topics. From DIY crafts to dance challenges, the platform sparks innovation and self-expression. It provides a virtual space for young girls to connect, share experiences and use social media to build a supportive community. Seeing others enjoy what they enjoy gives a greater sense of self-belief and can strengthen young people leaning into their uniqueness when they see they are part of a broader community of like-minded individuals.

Guiding your teen through TikTok use

As parents, it's crucial to strike a balance between allowing your teen to explore TikTok and ensuring their online safety and the content that they will scroll through. Currently, the age of use for TikTok is 13 years old. When signing up to TikTok, it is important that users provide their correct date of birth – this will help to ensure that users have the correct age-appropriate experience. Setting age restrictions aligned with those recommended is the number one rule of social media use for young people to set them up for future success in navigating online and in-person experiences.

1. Open communication

Create an environment where your daughter feels comfortable discussing her online experiences. Encourage open conversations about the content she encounters and the interactions she has on TikTok. Show her the content that you explore so she has different role models that could inform her online behaviour.

2. Set healthy boundaries

Help your teen establish healthy time limits for TikTok, mobile phone and social media usage. Whilst we would love them to set their own limits, we need to remember that this is our responsibility as parents and we need to be the ones accountable for enforcing what we permit. When setting those limits, consider what their time on TikTok is for, in our house, we use the buckets for consuming or creating. Creating content may have higher amounts of time dedicated to it than simply consuming content.

3. Teach critical thinking

Equip your daughter with the skills to critically evaluate content. Discuss the potential impact of misleading information and the importance of verifying facts. It can actually be a great exercise as a family to share the content found that feels incorrect, unlikely or far-fetched, demonstrating that we, even as adults, are still evaluating all we see.

Empowering your daughter

Empower your daughter to navigate TikTok mindfully with the following strategies.

1. Foster self-esteem

Encourage your teen to cultivate a strong sense of self-worth that isn't solely dependent on online validation. Put plenty of reference points into their ‘bucket’ of the wonderful people they are and what they bring to the world around them. What do you value about them as a person? What do those around them value about them? How would they like to be perceived by others? Building self-esteem is about broadening their view of value and worth so that narrow challenges don’t take too much energy away from the big picture.

2. Online etiquette

Educate your daughter about responsible online behaviour. Discuss the implications of cyberbullying and the significance of treating others with kindness and respect. One of the most difficult roles in this is being an upstander for others. Be a safe space for them to rely on if they are conflicted by what they see, and navigate together what the next steps might look like to do the right thing or to seek help.

3. Digital literacy

Teach your teen to distinguish between genuine and misleading content. Instil the habit of fact-checking and critical thinking through sharing what you read too. Explore emerging technologies like AI together so they see that you too are a lifelong learner. These are all skills that will also support students' broader academic performance and undergraduate studies.

So, is TikTok impacting students' wellbeing or not?

The impact of TikTok on students and young girls is a complex interplay of empowerment and challenges. By engaging in open conversations, setting boundaries, and nurturing critical thinking, parents can guide their daughters to make the most of their online experiences. Together, let's create a digital world where our adolescent girls can thrive and have a place within.

Kennedy, T. (2020). The Impact of TikTok on Girls During the Pandemic: A Liberation of Girlhood or Cause for Concern? Retrieved from https://www.agsa.org.au/research/the-impact-of-tiktok-on-girls-during-the-pandemic-a-liberation-of-girlhood-or-cause-for-concern-kennedy-2020/

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