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Unveiling the TikTok Effect: How It's Impacting Youth Mental Health

March 17th, 2024


In recent months, TikTok, the popular social media platform known for its short-form videos and viral trends, has found itself at the center of a geopolitical storm between the Chinese and U.S. governments. TikTok's meteoric rise to prominence has raised concerns among policymakers about data privacy, national security, and foreign influence. Amid escalating tensions, US House lawmakers just last week approved legislation aimed at compelling ByteDance, the Chinese internet company that owns TikTok, to sell its wildly popular social media app to a US-based company.

With over a billion users worldwide, TikTok's catchy dances, funny skits, and viral challenges, have quickly become a staple in the lives of many young people. But what you might not realize is that this seemingly harmless app could be having a significant impact on youth mental health.

Understanding TikTok's Influence on Youth Mental Health

Before we begin to examine the correlation between TikTok and youth mental health, let’s look at some TikTok statistics:

TikTok Demographic Data (Key Statistics)

  • 1 in 4 TikTok users are under 20 years old
  • TikTok has more Gen Z users than Instagram
  • The majority of TikTok creators are aged 18 to 24
  • 57% of TikTok users are female
  • The US has the largest TikTok audience (over 135 million)
  • Each of 2021’s top seven TikTok earners was 25 years old or younger

TikTok Users by Age

  • The largest proportion (25%) of US TikTok users are 10 to 19 years of age. In fact, 47.4% of TikTok users are under 30.
  • The share of TikTok users decreases in size as age groups advance. Those aged 50+ make up the smallest share of TikTok users at just 11%.

Source: Exploding Topics

Now, let's dive into how TikTok might be affecting the mental well-being of our young people.

  • Addictive Nature of TikTok: TikTok is designed to keep users scrolling for hours on end. With its endless stream of content and addictive algorithm, it's easy to get sucked into the app and lose track of time.
    • According to a survey conducted between April and May 2023 among TikTok users in the United States, 77.7% of Generation Z users reported feeling that TikTok was addictive. In comparison, around 72 percent of Gen X respondents felt the same.
  • Negative Impact on Self-Esteem and Body Image: One of the downsides of TikTok is the prevalence of unrealistic beauty standards and body ideals. Constant exposure to edited and filtered images can lead to feelings of inadequacy and poor self-image.
  • Cyberbullying and Social Comparison: Unfortunately, TikTok isn't immune to cyberbullying and negative comments. For some young people, the pressure to fit in and gain likes and followers can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Enter, #sadtok. TikTok is purposely designed to be a never-ending pit of content. As soon as you show a slight interest towards one video, even without ‘hearting’ it to indicate your like of the video, you are immediately fed similar videos. This algorithm-driven approach can have a significant impact on users, as Francis, an 18-year-old student in the Philippines, explains: “When I watch a sad video that I could relate to, suddenly my whole ‘For You’ Page is sad and I’m in ‘Sadtok’. It affects how I’m feeling.” This phenomenon illustrates how TikTok's content recommendation system can quickly shape the user experience and influence their emotional state.

The Psychological Effects of TikTok

Let's take a closer look at some of the psychological effects of spending too much time on TikTok.

  • Dopamine-Driven Reward System: TikTok operates on a reward system that releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, every time you get a like or a comment on your video. This can create a cycle of addiction and dependency, similar to what we see with other addictive behaviors.
  • Comparison and Self-Esteem: Constantly comparing ourselves to others on TikTok can take a toll on our mental health. It's easy to feel inadequate or insecure when we see other people's seemingly perfect lives and bodies on display.
  • Cyberbullying and Mental Health: Cyberbullying is a serious issue on TikTok, with users facing harassment and abuse in the comments section. This can lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and isolation, which can exacerbate existing mental health issues.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers

If you're a parent or caregiver, here are some tips for supporting your child's mental health in the age of TikTok:

  • Open Communication: Talk to your child about their TikTok use and how it makes them feel. Encourage them to share any concerns or issues they may be experiencing.
  • Setting Boundaries: Set limits on screen time and establish clear guidelines for TikTok use. Encourage your child to take regular breaks and engage in other activities offline.
    • To help with boundary-setting, in 2023, TikTok announced that it would limit minors to one hour per day of usage on the app in an effort to promote healthier screen time habits.
    • Users aged 13-17 will receive an alert after one hour of use and have the option to enter a passcode for an additional hour.
    • Children under 13 will require parental permission and a passcode for up to 30 minutes of extra use.
  • Monitoring and Support: Keep an eye on your child's TikTok activity and be on the lookout for signs of distress or negative effects. Offer support and guidance if you notice any concerning behavior.
  • Seeking Professional Help: If your child is struggling with their mental health as a result of TikTok or any other issue, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Here at Clarity Clinic, we have many qualified therapists and psychiatrists that can provide both in-person and online support and guidance to help your child navigate these challenges. View available providers and book an appointment here.

In conclusion, while TikTok can be a fun and entertaining app, it's essential to recognize its potential impact on youth mental health. By understanding the psychological effects of TikTok and taking proactive steps to support our young people, we can help ensure that they have a positive and healthy relationship with social media. Let's work together to create a safer and more supportive online environment for our kids.

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