TikTok is rolling out features to curb screen time and expand parental involvement through family pairing.
TikTok said in a blog post Wednesday that it will automatically set a 60-minute daily screen time limit for users under 18, as well as prompt underage users to set daily limits for themselves if they spend more than 100 minutes on the app. It is also expanding Family Pairing and will allow parents to filter out certain words and hashtags, set screen time limits and set schedules to mute TikTok notifications.
"Family Pairing is an opportunity for parents and teens to collaborate on developing healthy online habits," Larry Magid, the president and CEO of the nonprofit privacy group ConnectSafely, said in the announcement.
"It's not parental control, it's parental involvement and an opportunity for parents and teens to learn from each other."
For users under 13, the feature requires parents or other guardians to set and enter passcodes to enable 30 more minutes upon reaching the 60-minute daily screen time limit. TikTok consulted with the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children's Hospital to determine the time limit.
If teens under 18 reach their daily time limits, they must "make an active decision" to extend their screen time by entering passcodes.
Under Family Pairing, caregivers and guardians can set time limits customized to the day of the week — on weekends, for example, an underage user may be able to spend more time on TikTok than on school nights.
In addition to filtering out unwanted keywords and hashtags, the updated Family Pairing feature includes a screen time dashboard, which documents how long a user spent on TikTok and how many times the user opened the app. Screen time is a topic parents "frequently discuss" with their teenagers, TikTok said, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the company.
"While there’s no collectively-endorsed position on how much screen time is ‘too much’, or even the impact of screen time more broadly, we recognize that teens typically require extra support as they start to explore the online world independently," a TikTok spokesperson said by email.
Amid recent reports of mental health struggles among teenagers, especially teen girls, advocates have expressed concerns over social media’s impact on minors’ self-esteem.
James P. Steyer, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit children’s media group Common Sense Media, said limits on screen time are a step toward creating healthier online environments for young people. However, he said, more work needs to be done.
“Social media companies shouldn't be putting the onus on parents," Steyer said. "They shouldn't put the burden on parents to put all the safeguards in place to protect children online. They should have designed features years ago that protected kids from too much screen time or endless scrolling and also harmful content."
TikTok said that in its first month of testing, prompting users to set daily screen time limits increased the use of screen time management tools by 234%.
Soon, all users will be able to set daily screen time limits and mute notifications regardless of whether they're using Family Pairing, TikTok said. The app will also roll out sleep reminders, so that when users reach a selected time of night, a pop-up will remind them to log off.
"We hope these features will continue to help families establish an ongoing dialogue about safety and well-being in our digital world," TikTok said.
Steyer called TikTok’s new safety features “proactive” but pointed out that the rollout comes ahead of CEO Shou Zi Chew’s appearance before Congress on March 23. Chew will be questioned about the app’s security concerns and impact on children, among other issues.
“Kids live their lives on these platforms,” Steyer said. “Teenagers form their identities and their relationships on these platforms. And we need far greater oversight of that and we need far more proactive behavior by the industry players.”