Should Teen Remove TikTok?

A Mom is wondering where she and her teen stand on this issue….

A juxtaposition of the tik-tok corporate logo and a tick-tock kid's toy clock from Fisher Price.
TikTok: not your average learning toy !

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Should my teen remove Tiktok from her phone? During the lockdown she and her best friends have been getting together and making up choreographed dances. It’s a lot of fun and I love being their audience. The app has helped us keep active and share things. Even though we like it,  I am concerned by what I read. It doesn’t seem good and I don’t want her to have spyware on the phone. Should I ask my teen to take the app off her phone, or am I just having a knee-jerk reaction? Madeline, Novato

Dear Madeline: This one is above my pay-grade, as the expression goes, so I will just offer some general comments. I am reading and watching the same stories as you.


I would use this occasion as an opportunity to talk about social media with my teen. The political fray gives you a chance to remind them that social media is more complicated than the plot of ‘Games of Thrones.’ On the Internet, nothing is permanently private, and what teens post, in drips and drabs, (ie, their digital exhaust) could become a permanent record. That might not seem so important in ninth grade, but it could become a liability for employment later on. Moreover, postings can be manipulated and changed without direct permission. Kids seem to naturally understand the idea of song covers- most of the time a musical reinterpretation (the cover) is creative and good, but it could be juxtapositioned for bad.

You, or the Algorithm?

The second issue I would discuss with my teen is the “pop stardom” that might lure them to TikTok. Music, dance, and humor come naturally, and getting that 15 seconds of fame is like, well, getting into an Ivy League school, but better. When you commit to social media, you also feel obligated to package and promote yourself. But, sometimes, it’s not about us, but rather, about the the algorithm; how does it know just what to show you and when? Whatever your teens social investment in  TikTok, there will be new venues to be conquered: just this week Instagram announced Reels, a brand new video feature.

As we grow more accustomed to smartphone technology and become more sophisticated with it, apps like TikTok might appear very primitive. Slapstick comedy is often an entry point during the infancy of a medium. Do readers, or their grandparents, remember vaudeville performances at movie theatres or Alan Funt’s “Candid Camera” on television? One source says that TikTok is like future social media in which the least amount of effort is expended to be a content creator with a shot at viral fame or at least a few laughs.

You, or Where you Go?

So, while the content may be simple or funny, the underlying app may not be. The content is delivered within a smartphone (aka computer) that could potentially be advanced, at the data collection and surveillance level. In reading why India banned TikTok, it was ostensibly because Indian soldiers were involved in a crash with Chinese troops in the Himalayas. We civilians don’t know whether the app was tracking the soldiers’ movement through hidden code or whether this an international row motivated by political tensions, the economy, or something else.

One of the issues that goes unsaid in social media is that the content and posts of individual users is probably not that significant to providers- but information harvested from their devices could be. It’s a plus when we want to track Covid, but dangerous in other situations. A malicious app could contain code that extract the names of contacts, recent phone activities, the usage of other apps and more.

It’s hard to read the clock-face of TikTok, but it does make sense to talk though these ‘timely’ issues with your teen and listen to what she has to say. No doubt teens are one step ahead, neither turning to Microsoft or Instagram, and instead, trying out brand new platforms.

Should Couple Share Screen?

A good looking couple sitting on a couch, announcing a zoom meeting they will hold for the RockChurch. This  was posted  on twitter.
Couples sharing screen from Rockchurch- San Bernadino, Ca.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I co-founded and run a small charity (HouseOfGoodDeeds.org) building community and helping others through altruism. We’ve been growing lately, partnering with other organizations and expanding our offerings. We have occasional small videoconferences with our organizers and volunteers, 3-5 attendees, but we anticipate bigger turnouts soon. My girlfriend is one of our main organizers, and we often are in the same place when these meetings are scheduled. She thinks it’s appropriate for the two of us to share the screen together, while I think it’s more professional for us to each be on our own devices for group calls. Who’s right? Leon, NY

Dear Leon: I  checked out your site and kudos for helping out so many people in need. You must be even busier here in the time of Covid.  You raise a fine question about digital etiquette and why your girlfriend wants to be on the videoconference, with  a single device. 

It’s worth exploring why she sees this is a value added proposition. Try to tease out her reasons and see if they make sense. Perhaps she is striving to make it look like TV news or the late night shows, where commentators and experts sit around the table and  chat. Maybe as the charity grows, that will happen. 

But, for today, here are few things to think about: first passwords and the security you have on the device. Sometimes couples go through turbulent times, and you don’t want your charity to be in jeopardy. This can never be easy for couples are joined at the  digital hip.

View it as a Visitor?

If unity is your main goal, then maybe the shared screen is the right decision. But, look at your meeting as if you were a visitor. Some platforms ‘zoom’ into the voice so when the two of your are online together that could be confusing. What is the partner who is not speaking doing? And, are the two of you in full view or cut-off, particularly with picture- in -picture? In that case, you might need to sit further from the camera. It’s essential that you make the quality and professional appearance of the video conference your primary concern.

View ExpaNSIONS

During Covid, churches and charities have found novel ways to be tech-savvy and engage new audiences (or lapsing ones). Here’s a headline: When God closes a church, he opens up a browser window!  Can you take a lesson from them and explore new roles that  will be complementary for your business such as  private chat rooms, or additional screens with pictures and text? The two of you could work together to plan better online meetings amplified by more screens (just make sure she does not zoom bomb you!)

On a personal note, I can honestly say that during the lockdown, my husband and I share a screen, but only for virtual  happy hour. If I had to do that more often, I am sure I would want bigger technology and a larger drink.

Why Don’t Seniors Bank Online?

The banks are all closed…and my parents want to pay for the errands

A picture of a jam jar filled with dollar bills and the label on it says "retirement fund." This is a stock image for an AARP program called mysavingsjar
bank online or in a jar? ..image source: mysavingsjar.org (AARP)

Dear Ms Smartphone: I am helping my parents during the pandemic and do their grocery shopping and other chores. My Mom says she wants to reimburse me but she does not have Venmo or an account to bank online. The banks in our area are all closed and she does not want to go out anyway. Is it too late to get her to change her habits? Taylor, Newton

Dear Taylor,

Although they say that cash is king, it is certainly taking a backseat in this time of Covid. For fear of handling paper, more of us are using credit and debit cards.  And, for the smartphone savvy, this is the shining moment for Apple Pay and Google Pay (if not Bitcoin!).

Older people have preferred brick and mortar banks but this is probably the wakeup call to try online. Most older people have a foundation for trust since they receive digital funds through Social Security or Medicare.

It’s A big Loss….

One financial services firm, TrueLink, put the cost of elder financial abuse at nearly $37 billion per year. That includes a loss of around $17 billion from “exploitation” like quack investment schemes, nearly $13 billion from identity theft and other frauds, and just under $7 billion from abuse by caregivers. I think this is the worst case scenario, but the numbers do give pause.

How to Think Online…

Capital One (the bank) observed that only 18% of people over 60 used online banking. They developed an online curriculum with the National Council on Aging. If your parents are motivated to watch it, the multi-part videos should make them feel more secure and comfortable using their computer, if not their phone, for full scale banking. AARP also has a number of educationl programs, including mysavingsjar.org

The AARP has some good advice for doing banking when the banks are closed, and elsewhere, they have noted that depending on your parent’s situation, they might prefer an online account that allows a second pair or eyes to monitor it.

More Tips…

Accessing their phone instead of the computer for banking might seem like a viable option, but  I have some concerns.  Sometimes older people have difficulty using their phones for skilled task because of  health-related issues, like  eyesight deterioration or the coordination of motor skill. Sometimes they do not practice or know good digital hygiene:  for example, knowing how to log out of apps, use unique passwords, or practice two-step authentication.

So, if you do want to make them phone savvy perhaps a cash intermediary app like  Venmo or Paypal  might be a baby step for you and your parents to take together. Then you can exchange small amounts of money and get the groceries paid for without cash without full scale online banking.  But, if they are resistant, have Mom write you a plain old fashioined paper check that you can deposit in a digital second.