It can start with a flattering comment about a dance routine a teenager posts, or suggestive comments, offensive emojis or harassment.
Sure, plenty of teens use TikTok, but there are predators, too. Parents are being advised to pay attention not only to privacy settings, but also to educate their youngsters about the risks involved.
Warning signs include: "If someone repeatedly pays compliments, promises gifts, but also asks for more photos," says media awareness coach Kristin Langer.
Often this is only the beginning of further requests, such as "Why don't you take off your shirt? I'd like to see you topless."
Predators move forward step by step, prompting users to engage in sexual activity. They flatter teens and urge them not to tell anyone about their new friend, particularly their parents.
The profiles they use are usually fake, Langer says. Someone posing as a 16-year-old called John could actually be a 56-year-old trying to start conversations with lines like, "I like horses. Do you?"
An unsuspecting user might think, "Great, we're interested in the same things, and we like the same music.“
If an insecure teen figures this is all harmless, then they have already fallen into the trap, and a predator might figure they have a chance.
Youngsters often don’t know how to extricate themselves from such situations, Lager says.
If parents don't have the rights in the app to check what their children are doing on TikTok, can always ask what's going on, maybe by saying, "You're in such a great mood today, tell me about it."
Educational conversations can also help, particularly if the exchange shifts to another platform such as WhatsApp, where predators can suggest kids turn their cameras. One sign that something's wrong is if their teenager suddenly becomes withdrawn or stops eating.
If a child tells you that there’s a problem, Langer says despite feeling horrified, try and stay calm and stick with the child. Ask, "How do you feel about it? What would be right for you?"
Maybe, if possible, ask the youngster to make a screenshot of what’s happening. You can also report inappropriate users and posts that worry you, using the app’s reporting functions. – dpa