A parent’s guide to using TikTok and other social media

·4 min read

For parents having trouble understanding when their kids text them “omw,” or grandparents looking for a way to connect with their grandchildren during the pandemic, social media might be the way to go.

But navigating the variety of platforms, features, and lingo can be daunting.

Here’s your guide to three social media platforms and how to use them, so you never have to ask what a “hashtag” is again.


This mobile and web platform lets users make and share video clips. While the videos tend to be a few seconds long, the smooth transitions and catchy music can lead to hours of scrolling.

Users can “follow” other accounts to view videos from those accounts. When a user presses the heart-shaped “like” button next to a video, the TikTok’s algorithm curates similar videos in the “for you” feed. There’s also a direct messaging option for private chats with specific users.

Anyone with a phone can record videos and edit videos, add sound, and upload them. TikTok is popular for dance, lipsyncing, and comedy videos, but also clips showcasing other talents.

The Spectator previously reported on Morgann Book who runs the Dairy Queen Ancaster TikTok account (ancasterdq), featuring the 17-year-old making and decorating ice cream cakes in the restaurant.

Saffi Chkeir is a Hamilton student in Grade 10 who uses TikTok for entertainment, but also to learn things in a fun way.

“TikTok is a faster way for me to find new information online,” he said.

Some political leaders, such as Toronto mayor John Tory and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh have taken to the platform to share news, including about COVID-19, in entertaining skits or dances.

Chkeir warns new social media users to be careful when contacted by other accounts, noting there are online scammers who can solicit users for personal information.

“I’d watch out not to message anyone that will come up out of nowhere,” he said.

An account is not required to watch videos — which can be viewed either through the mobile app or on tiktok.com


Where TikTok is a platform for videos, Instagram emphasizes photos.

Like TikTok, users can follow other accounts, “like” and comment on their posts, and create their own. But unlike TikTok, Instagram allows users the option to create posts without audio.

While the app focuses on photos, users can upload videos, too. A new “Reels” feature also allows users to create TikTok-like video clips with sound.

Unlike TikTok, the private messaging option on Instagram’s mobile app also allows video calls, which Sherwood Secondary School student Connor Uhrig says can be useful for connecting with friends for school or fun.

Uhrig, who’s a volunteer for Cyber Seniors, a group that encourages youth to teach seniors how to use technology, said he prefers Instagram’s simple interface, saying it’s easier to teach to others because all its buttons are accessible on one screen.

Many news organizations — including The Hamilton Spectator — have Instagram accounts, along with governments (such as the City of Hamilton), celebrities, and more.

There are also livestreams on Instagram, from everything from makeup tutorials, news coverage, or celebrity AMAs (“Ask Me Anything”). Users can follow hashtags — a word or phrase after a hash sign (#) — to see content on specific topics.

Jacob Paterson, another student at Sherwood Secondary School, says he likes using the app for posting photos from family holidays. Users might also share jokes on the platform, or photos of nature, food, or pets.

Paterson said while it’s fun to share personal accomplishments on the platform, it’s important to be careful not to take it too seriously.

“It doesn’t tell the whole story,” he said.


Snapchat is also for sharing photos and messages, but the catch is the messages are only available for a short period before they disappear.

The app opens into a camera and once a user takes a photo, they can add text or drawings to it and share it with others. Once the recipient sees the message, it vanishes.

“It’s fun to text your friends silly one-time photos,” said Izzy Gaul Skinner, a student at Glendale Secondary School.

She noted that an added feature of Snapchat is that users can link Bitmojis — a customized avatar created through a separate app — to their accounts which then appear on different parts of the platform.

Unlike the public posts on TikTok and Instagram, Snapchat mostly features one-on-one or group messaging with specific friends.

Uhrig said social media can be a great way for grandparents to stay in touch with their loved ones.

“They want to stay in touch with people,” he said. “They want to know how to use this stuff so then they’re not falling behind.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator