Is TikTok Causing Tics In Teenagers?
Social media is an ever-changing online landscape that has some pretty significant influence on mental health. And it’s up to us as individuals, parents and scholars to understand that with good come bad, and vice versa. One great example of this is TikTok, a social app that’s become viral in recent years.
What Is TikTok?
One of the most popular social media platforms used today is TikTok, a video-based social platform featuring 15-second to 3-minute long personal videos. Originally, TikTok was released in 2016 and didn’t gain too much popularity initially. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people were quarantined, this changed.
Now, it can be said that people from most demographics are online and using this app. From younger teenagers to even older adults, TikTok offers video entertainment that most anyone can enjoy thanks to its algorithms.
TikTok: Its Effects On Children
We already know kids can say some pretty wild stuff. They repeat what they hear or see, especially if it resonates with them or makes them laugh. While this is normal human behavior, sometimes children can develop what is called Tourette Syndrome. Tourette Syndrome impacts the nervous system and causes what we call “tics.”
While mostly seen in boys, TikTok could be causing an increase in Tourette-like behavior in teenage girls.
Could TikTok Be Causing Tourette Syndrome?
Since TikTok’s gain in popularity, there’s been an increase in teenage girls reporting Tourette’s-like tics and symptoms. One study actually found that those studied after watching TikTok videos of content creators diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome averaged 29 tics per minute.
One defining feature of Tourette Syndrome is that the tics tend to be unique to individuals. What doctors are noticing, however, is that teens are coming in with sudden-onset tics with the same phrases and uncontrolled motions.
What this means is that while the manifestations of symptoms are similar, it’s likely not Tourette Syndrome itself, and there’s a commonality between these cases: TikTok.
How Could TikTok Cause Tics?
A possible explanation for this could be directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many adults experienced upheaval during the height of quarantine and the pandemic. Jobs were lost, hospitals were overcrowded and it was easy to panic. On the other side, young adults and teenagers were facing their own issues:
- During school closures, teenagers and young adults weren’t around peers and missed crucial social experiences.
- Disruption of other routines, such as school extracurricular activities, seeing friends outside of school or simply going to the store with family.
- Increased stress inside the household.
One study found that referrals to mental health services for children increased by 72% between 2019 and 2020, peak pandemic time.
Increased stress, anxiety, depression and time spent quarantined at home also mean an increase in social media time. With social media usage increased, notably TikTok’s, the increased consumption leads to more time potentially interacting with videos exhibiting tics.
What Can Parents Do?
It’s not quite time to ban social media or TikTok. Many of these studies are still ongoing or new, meaning doctors and researchers haven’t had enough time to fully understand what’s happening and why. However, it’s always a good idea to practice responsible social media use:
- Limit their screen time by offering family activities or encouraging time spent outside/with friends.
- Set boundaries during family time, such as movie nights or meal times. No screen use for the duration of these activities!
- Discuss with your children the importance of putting the phone down every so often and “disconnecting” from the online world.
If you believe your child is exhibiting signs of mental distress or the tic-like behaviors described, Lawton Community Health Center’s pediatrics care staff would love to help! You can also visit CCMH’s Family Care page to view our other services.
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International Parkinson And Movement Disorder Society. https://movementdisorders.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/mdc3.13316