Why experts worry that TikTok may exacerbate the mental health crisis among American teens
Jerome Yankee said he used to pull all-nighters when he was in college — not studying or partying, but swiping on TikTok until the sun came up.
“You’ve seen me not make an effort in my own life, rather than just trying to live vicariously by what I see,” said the 23-year-old Yankee. He said he lost sleep, his grades suffered, and he lost touch with his friends and with himself.
In 2021, he deleted the app. He said the positive impact was evident. “It’s great to be able to sleep again starting in the middle of the night,” he said. “It’s great to be able to get up early and be more productive with the sun up.”
In recent months, TikTok has faced increasing pressure from state and federal lawmakers over concerns about its ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance. But some lawmakers and researchers have, too Checked The impact that a short video app might have on younger users.
Republican Representative Mike Gallagher, the incoming chair of the new House Select Committee on China, newly He called TikTok “digital fentanyl” for allegedly having “the detrimental effect of continued social media use, especially on young men and women here in America.” Indiana Attorney General I filed two cases against TikTok last month, including one that alleges the platform lures children to the platform by falsely claiming it is friendly to users between the ages of 13 and 17. and one study From a non-profit group that claimed TikTok could serve potentially harmful content related to suicide and eating disorders to teens within minutes of creating an account.
TikTok is not the only social platform It has been vetted by legislators and mental health experts for its impact on adolescents. Top executives from several companies, including TikTok, have been questioned in Congress on the matter. And this week, Seattle Public Schools File a lawsuit against the social media companies Such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube, where he claims the platforms are “causing a crisis in the mental health of young people”, making it difficult for the school system to “perform its educational mission”.
But psychologist Dr Jan Twenge said TikTok’s algorithm in particular is “very complex” and “very sticky”, which is keeping teens engaged on the platform for longer. TikTok compiled more than a billion global users. These users spent an average of an hour and a half a day on the app in the past year, more than any other social media platform, according to the digital analytics platform. sensor tower.
“A lot of teens describe the experience of using TikTok intending to spend 15 minutes and then spending two hours or more. This is a problem because the more time a teen spends on social media, the more likely they are to experience depression. This is especially true of extreme use,” Twenge said.
This may only exacerbate the long-term rise in mental health issues, fueled in part by technology. Psychologists say that with the growth of smartphones and social media around 2012, the rate of depression among teens has also increased. Between 2004 and 2019 the rate of teen depression nearly doubled, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And for teenage girls, it’s even worse. By 2019, one in four American girls suffered from clinical depression, according to Twenge.
TikTok said it has tools to help users set limits on how much time they spend on the app each day. TikTok also continues to roll out other programs Warranties to its users, including ways to filter out adult or “potentially problematic” videos and more Parental control.
“One of our most important commitments is to support the safety and well-being of our teens, and we know that work is never finished. We continue to focus on protecting the strong safety of our community while also empowering parents through additional teen account controls through TikTok Family Pairing,” TikTok said in a statement to CNN. “.
The company said between April and June of 2022 that it removed 93.4% of videos of self-harm and suicide from the app before they were ever viewed. But teens say the most outrageous videos keep them engaged. It’s the content programmed for them in the “For You” section of the app.
“It’s very curated for you,” said Angelica Faustino, an 18-year-old sophomore at the University at Buffalo who says she spends 3 to 4 hours a day on TikTok.
“There’s a lot of body validation on TikTok — a lot of people flaunting things about themselves that are probably unattainable. See if you’ve had enough times maybe I should be like this,” Faustino said.
However, despite all the concerns, there are signs that TikTok and other social networks can have a positive impact on younger users as well.
The majority of teens say social media can be a space for connection and creativity, according to Pew Research. Eight out of 10 teens ages 13 to 17 say social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, and 71% say social media is a place they can get creative, according to Pew.
And some in Gen Z, the generation that grew up on TikTok, have found unique opportunities on the platform.
Hannah Williams spends her time on TikTok running her business, Transparent Paycheck Street. She interviews Americans every day about the salary they make at their jobs, providing pay transparency to her nearly 1 million followers.
“I quit my job in May 2022 to work on my Tik Tok social media page full time because I saw an amazing opportunity to do something with my career,” said the 26-year-old Williams.
She said, “I think it’s interesting that we can try to use social media to really impact the world forever, and I hope that happens.”