Jerome Yankee said he used to sleep through the night when he was in college – not studying or partying, but scrolling through TikTok until the sun came up.
“I saw that I wasn’t trying to live my life, but trying to live through what I was seeing,” the 23-year-old Yankee said. He said he couldn’t sleep, his grades suffered, and he fell out of touch with friends and himself.
In 2021 he deleted the app. The positive impact was clear, he said. “It’s great to be able to sleep again in the middle of the night,” he said. “It’s great to wake up early and be more productive with the sun.”
In recent months, TikTok has faced mounting pressure from state and federal lawmakers over concerns about its ties to China through its parent company ByteDance. But some lawmakers and researchers are also examining the impact short-form video apps could have on the youngest users.
GOP Representative Mike Gallagher, the incoming chairman of a new House Select Committee on China, recently called TikTok a “digital fentanyl,” alleging “the corrosive effect of frequent social media use, especially among youth here in America.” on men and women.” Indiana’s attorney general filed two lawsuits against TikTok last month, one alleging that the platform lured children onto the platform, claiming it was suited for users between the ages of 13 and 17. And a study by a non-profit group claims that TikTok can show potentially harmful content related to suicide and eating disorders to teens within minutes of creating an account.
TikTok is far from the only social platform being scrutinized by lawmakers and mental health experts for its influence on teenagers. Top executives of several companies including Tiktok have been questioned in the Congress in this matter. And this week, Seattle Public Schools sued social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube, alleging that the platforms are “creating a youth mental health crisis,” causing the school system to “undermine its educational mission.” It has become difficult to make ends meet.”
But psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge said TikTok’s algorithm in particular is “too sophisticated” and “too sticky,” keeping teens on the platform for long periods of time. TikTok has over a billion global users. Those users spent an average of one and a half hours per day on the app last year, more than any other social media platform, according to digital analytics platform SensorTower.
“A lot of teens describe the experience of going on TikTok and spending 15 minutes and then they spend two hours or more. This is problematic because the more time a teen spends on social media, the more likely they are to become depressed. And that’s especially true at the peak of use,” Twenge said.
This can only add to a long-term increase in mental health issues, partly fueled by technology. Psychologists say that as smartphones and social media grew around 2012, so did the rate of depression among teenagers. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, rates of teen depression nearly doubled between 2004 and 2019. And it’s even worse for teenage girls. According to Twenge, as of 2019, one in four American girls has experienced clinical depression.
TikTok said it has tools in place to help users decide how much time they spend on the app every day. TikTok also continues to roll out other safety measures for its users, including ways to filter mature or “potentially problematic” videos and more parental controls.
“One of our most important commitments is supporting the safety and well-being of teens, and we believe this work is never-ending. We continue to focus on strong safeguards for our community, as well -Empower fathers with additional controls for their teen’s account through TikTok Family Pairing.” TikTok said in a statement to CNN.
The company said that between April and June of 2022 it removed 93.4% of videos on self-harm and suicide from the app before they were ever viewed. But the teens say it’s not the most egregious videos that keep them engaged. This is content programmed for them in the “For You” section of the app.
“It’s very curious of 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 is a lot of body checking on TikTok – a lot of people showing things about themselves that are probably unrecognizable. You see maybe I should be like that if there is enough time,” Faustino said.
However, for all the concerns, there are signs that TikTok and other social networks may be having a positive effect on young users as well.
According to Pew Research, a majority of teens say that social media can be a venue for connection and creativity. According to Pew, eight out of 10 teens aged 13-17 say social media keeps them away from their friends.