NCC April TikTok: Yeah, Not Good for Teenies

April 29, 2022

We wonder whether China will more aggressively exploit TikTok’s ability to influence. The New York Post describes “How TikTok Has Become a Dangerous Breeding Ground for Mental Disorders.” Apparently, tiktoks discussing mental health conditions are trending, especially among teen girls. This would be a good thing—if they were all produced by medical experts, contained good information, and offered guidance for seeking professional help when warranted. Instead influencers, many of whom are teenagers themselves, purport to help others self-diagnose their mental conditions. As one might imagine, this rarely goes well. Writer Riki Schlott tells us:

“After nearly two years of lockdowns and school closures, lonely teens are spending more time online, and many inevitably come across mental health content on TikTok. When they do, the platform’s algorithm kicks in, serving suggestible young girls even more videos on the topic. While mental health awareness is surely a good thing, well-meaning influencers are inadvertently harming young, impressionable viewers, many of whom seem to be incorrectly self-diagnosing with disorders or suddenly manifesting symptoms because they are now aware of them.”

The author continues, expanding her warning to include social media in general:

“Eating disorders have also been shown to spread within friend groups. As a member of Gen Z, I’ve watched firsthand what social media has done to a generation of young women — it even left behind self-harm scars on many of my peers’ wrists. I know a terrifying number of peers who have self harmed, many of whom were habitual social media users. Rates of depression have doubled among teen girls between 2009 and 2019, and self-harm hospital admissions have soared 100 percent for girls aged 10 to 14 during the rise of social media between 2010 and 2014, the most recently available data.”

Clearly a solution is needed, but Schlott knows where we cannot turn—politicians are too “clueless” to craft effective regulations and the platforms are too greedy to do anything about it. Instead it falls to parents to take responsibility for their teens’ media consumption, as difficult as that may be. Citing psychology professor and author on the subject Dr. Jean Twenge, the write-up advises a few precautions. First parents must recognize that, unlike playing age-appropriate games or texting friends on their devices, social media is completely inappropriate for children, tweens, and young teens. The platforms themselves officially limit accounts to those 13 and older, but Twenge suggests holding off until a child is 16 if possible. She also proposes a household rule whereby everyone, including parents, stops using electronic devices an hour before bedtime and leaves their phones outside their bedrooms at night. Yes, parents too—after all, leading by example is often the only way to convince teens to comply.

Cynthia Murrell, April 29, 2022


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