Perspective: When it comes to TikTok, don’t be conquered in your own kingdom
Parents should be the gatekeepers of what their children consume. Let’s not blame the world, the government or corporations
Few things have been as prominent in the news cycle of late as TikTok, as some U.S. government officials are threatening to ban the site. Many parents, meanwhile, are expressing concern about how damaging and addictive TikTok has been for their children. Lest you feel these concerns are exaggerated, search the app and see the narcissistic, immoral and demeaning content available to your children.
It seems to be in society’s best interest to get rid of TikTok. And yet banning it seems like an exercise in futility. When the underlying culture has a desire for such content, another TikTok will soon emerge. Supply will always meet demand.
Considering the ready supply of damaging technology, the insatiable appetite of addicted youth, and the mountain of evidence showing us that these platforms damage our kids’ minds, what can be done?
To overcome TikTok, and all the other destructive pulls upon our children, we need families to become what they were meant to be — autonomous kingdoms. As the Christian scholar G.K. Chesterton once put it, “The ‘state’ is made up of a number of small kingdoms, of which a man and a woman become the king and queen, and on which they exercise a reasonable authority, subject to the common sense of commonwealth, until those under their care, grow up to found similar kingdoms and exercise similar authority.”
He added, “This is the social structure of mankind, far older than all its records, and more universal than any of its religions, and all attempts to alter it are mere talk and tomfoolery.”
Put simply, we are the kings and queens of our castles. Inside our kingdom we set up rules and traditions, we control the supply and demand, and we are the ones who decide whether TikTok is banned.
The problem of demand
When I was a child, our family kingdom had different traditions than the neighboring ones. For one thing, we had friendly boxing matches in our living room. But we gasped when we heard other kids say “shut up.” Friends surely thought we were strange.
Each kingdom is strange because each kingdom is as unique as its rulers. This is part of the joy and diversity of life, observing the strangeness of other families while we ourselves belong to an odd one.
Those of us older than 35 never wished for a cellphone when we were kids. We didn’t whine for a TikTok account. These things didn’t exist. And even today, we can make them not exist in our kingdom. This is parenting.
And parents have to say “no” to a lot of things that are popular outside their house. But in my kingdom, we are saying “yes” to things that matter more. We are developing a home full of adventures and traditions based on the “commonwealth” of interests and desires of our family members.
My husband grew up playing soccer, so he has coached all our kids. I grew up traveling; our kids love to travel, as well. When our children display an interest in something, we incorporate it into the family culture. If we fill our kingdoms with wholesome activities and interests, the demand for excessive technology and TikTok diminishes.
Another way of controlling “demand” is to educate our children about the dangers of TikTok and other technologies and the harmful messages found therein. The truth is convincing.
Traditions of truth
As a parent, always in my mind is a question: “Am I being controlling?” When we control something, we force it against its own nature. But as parents, we are there beside our children as they develop their natures — their interests, habits and personalities.
We do have to exert a bit of control in our children’s lives or they would run into the street and eat bags of sugar. But as we encourage them in their development and teach them virtue by example, the need for control diminishes. They have their own knowledge and their own desire for virtue. As our kids become teenagers, we slowly step back and give them more autonomy.
They will sneak candy sometimes. They may throw a fit about not having TikTok. But we trust in the lessons we taught them and we encourage them while still maintaining the traditions of our home. When our children leave the house they can keep our traditions or drop some of them, as I have done. (Our family doesn’t hold boxing matches in our living room.)
Traditions provide stability and unity. They reflect the wisdom of the ages. The larger culture increasingly assumes all traditions are stifling and nonsensical. We see the chaotic consequences of their dismissal.
As Chesterton reminds us, “Those who leave the tradition of truth do not escape into something which we call Freedom. They only escape into something else, which we call Fashion.”
Parents are the gatekeepers of what our children consume. God chose us to be their parents, to know and care about our children. The wider culture and the influencers on TikTok don’t know or care about them.
Let’s not blame the world, the government or corporations. If our kids are consuming junk, get it out of the house. Change the passwords and throw the video game console off the balcony if necessary.
Many “nice” parents are worn out and overwhelmed by parenthood. Perhaps they don’t have the willpower or courage to create the culture that they want and instead let the wider culture reign. Many children now obsessed with TikTok likely wore down their apprehensive parents by complaining until they gave in. But in doing so, they allowed their small kingdom to be invaded by a larger, corrupt empire.
As we wait and see what the government does about TikTok, we realize that ultimately what they do doesn’t matter. Ban TikTok or not — parents must decide what our kingdom will allow.
Allyson Flake Matsoso has a degree in environmental/African studies and has published research in social work. She runs the “Philosophy of Motherhood” website.