Over the last year, social media usage has skyrocketed. By September 2020, one study found a 72% increase in overall social media use. This may come as no surprise since many of us have found comfort and connection through these platforms amid pandemic lockdowns. Ironically, however, this increased usage has actually been linked to poorer mental health overall.

More recently, TikTok has emerged as the platform of choice for young people. In the US, approximately 32.5% of users are between the ages of 10 and 18. Of these, 62% consider themselves “regular” TikTok users.

What Is TikTok?

TikTok is a video-sharing social media platform originating in China, where it is known as “Douyin.” It was launched in 2017 as a way to “inspire creativity and bring joy.” Short-form videos (15 seconds or less) can be posted by anyone and about anything. Like other social media platforms, TikTok users can “like” and “follow” anyone they choose.

Why Is TikTok So Popular With Teens?

Posts Are Geared Toward Teens

Statista reported in June 2020 that the most popular topics were entertainment, dancing, and pranks-subjects that arguably appeal to a younger crowd.

It Is Easy to Use

TikTok has also streamlined the video editing process (much like Instagram did with static photo editing), allowing users to create, edit, and enhance their videos in the space of a few minutes.

It Is Easily Accessible

84% of US teens have a smartphone, which means 84% of US teens have access to the TikTok app.

Teenagers Don’t Like to Be Bored

It could be argued that no one “likes” to be bored. But studies have linked boredom proneness in teenagers to an increase in risky behaviors, such as binge drinking, as well as internet addiction. The ability to make content in seconds virtually anywhere acts as a constant source of stimuli.

Potential Drawbacks for Teens on TikTok

Teens Are Easily Stressed

The teenage brain is in a remarkable and often exasperating state of development. The brain itself is physically growing to its mature size, while established regions are becoming more sophisticated.

Impulse control, decision-making, empathy, and expression are brand new skills that are developing as the frontal lobe connection matures.

That being said, the teenage brain may be more vulnerable to stress as it learns to process this new information. As mentioned before, higher social media use has been linked to increased anxiety and unhappiness in individuals; the heightened teen stress response may amplify these feelings.

Teens are Sensitive to Positive Feedback

The developing teenage brain is maturing in its ability to process social and emotional cues. One of the ways it does this is through relationships with other teenagers. As teens spend more time with peers (virtually or in-person), they look to them for the positive feedback regarding their activities and decisions.

Research has shown that the teen brain is so sensitive to rewarding feedback from peers that they may increase risky behaviors in order to obtain it. On TikTok, for example, certain trends have emerged that encourage teens to take part in challenges that pose bodily harm.

The Black Out Challenge involves purposely choking oneself or a friend to unconsciousness in an attempt to elicit a feeling of euphoria or a “high.” The Concussion Challenge involves a group of people huddling together while an object is thrown in the air, with the goal of it landing on someone’s head and causing a concussion.

How You Can Help Your Teen

Be Patient

It is important to always keep in mind that your teenager is going through a lot of physical and emotional changes. The challenges mentioned above may seem like a byproduct of extremely poor judgment, and they are.

But remember that decision-making and impulse-control are areas of the teenage mind that are still growing. They will make poor decisions, and it is part of the learning process.

Be Involved

Studies have shown that distress created by conflict online among teens can be greatly mitigated by a parent or parents monitoring their accounts.

In addition to routinely checking in with your child and asking them questions, there are several apps that allow parents to monitor online activities; you can set time limits, filter web content, and track phone calls and text messages.

Be Available

While you may find it difficult to get your teenager to talk to you, simply establishing an open line of communication, as in “you can talk to me anytime,” has been shown to help teenagers be more successful and reduce risky behaviors.

If you are concerned about your child’s online usage, or if they are exhibiting signs of anxiety and depression that you feel are related to social media, it is a good idea to consult with a mental health professional.

The Crane Center is currently open and accepting new patients. We are experienced in all aspects of adolescent psychology and are here to help.