A teacher’s guide to TikTok

Social media platform TikTok is now hugely popular with pupils across the world. What's it all about, asks Gemma Corby

Gemma Corby

TikTok: What teachers need to know about the popular social media platform

My interest was first piqued when students started announcing that they could “smell pennies”.

I knew that the financial situation in schools was dire, but were we really training our young people to sniff out coins? 

Nope. As it turns out, this comes from a popular meme from a virtual world known as TikTok.

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I have since educated myself on this phenomenon, and this is what I have discovered…

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media video app that allows users to create short videos (between three and 15 seconds long). It has 500 million active users, putting it ahead of Twitter and Snapchat. 

It is possible for users to make longer looping videos (up to 60 seconds) by stringing multiple clips together; there are also features such as slo-mo, graphics and filters.

What are the positives?

Apart from being entertaining, it offers the chance to learn new skills. My niece learned how to draw a horse, step by step, by watching clips.

She also informed me that she learns new dance routines, which she and her friends practise in the school playground. The platform appears to encourage a degree of creativity in young people, keen to find ways to entertain others.

Should we be worried?

Like all things social media, a degree of caution needs to be taken, but much of it is common sense and already taught in many schools.

But it’s important for schools to stay up to date as new apps appear, so they can update their e-safety policies accordingly. 

My niece rattles off the usual rules, such as not sharing videos of friends without their permission, not adding your phone number, not engaging with strangers. 

What is it like?

In an attempt to get down with the kids, I have downloaded the TikTok app and I have been alarmed by the number of scantily dressed, school-aged females, lip-synching and dancing provocatively around their bedrooms.

I am sure we have all been there in our teenage years, but in my day it was thankfully (for all concerned) minus an audience. The number of alerts I receive in a day is also concerning – it is an app that constantly demands your attention. 

TikTok is meant to be for users aged 13 or over (with parental permission if they are under 18). However, as users do not need to have an account, it is easy for any young person with knowledge of how to use a smart device to engage with the platform.

This means there is a risk that they could be exposed to inappropriate content. 

Some of the songs that young people mime along to include explicit lyrics – although it is possible that some of them do not fully understand the meaning of what they are singing (I recall the colour draining from my poor dad’s face as I sang along to Madonna’s Erotic back when I was 12). 

It is easy for teachers to feel a bit out of their depth with ever-evolving apps holding the attention of young people in their thrall.

There were times when my students and my niece were trying to explain things to me when I felt like my grandad must have done when I showed him a camera phone for the first time.

He held it aloft, examining it closely and declared, “That’s lovely dear, but where do you put the film?”

Gemma Corby is a freelance writer and former special educational needs and disability coordinator

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Gemma Corby

Gemma Corby is a freelance writer and former special educational needs and disability coordinator

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