TikTok is an incredibly popular social media platform, and its growth is unprecedented. Within four years, the app has been downloaded over 3 billion times. It is used by one-third of all social media users worldwide. Today, an estimated 1 billion users scroll through DIY tips, dance clips, and viral videos on TikTok each month. By comparison, Instagram and Facebook took nearly ten years to achieve such a user base.
Unfortunately, TikTok’s vast reach may be bad news for the mental health of teenagers around the world. Researchers have found that those who become dependent on the app may suffer from memory problems, depression, and anxiety.
Research Raises Concerns About Teens Addicted to TikTok
Within recent years, smartphones and social media platforms have become integral to the lives of teenagers. This has inspired psychological researchers to analyze the impact of technology on the mental health of adolescents. In partnership with the School of Journalism and Communication at China’s Southwest University, study authors Peng Sha and Xiaoyu Dong surveyed over 3,000 high school students. They measured levels of depression, anxiety, stress, and “TikTok use disorder.” Participants also submitted to forward and backward digit span tests – this served as a measure of memory loss. In these tests, students were challenged to recall numerical sequences that were presented to them on a screen.
The study’s results showed “a partial mediation effect of depression and anxiety between TikTok use disorder and forward digit span.” They also found “a partial mediation effect of depression, anxiety, and stress between TikTok use disorder and backward digit span.”
The researchers discovered that these results varied by gender. Male students exhibited higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression than their female counterparts. They were also more likely to show signs of memory loss.
TikTok Use Disorder Explained
Can your teenager become addicted to TikTok? Sha and Dong say yes. Their study participants completed a modified version of the shortened Smartphone Addiction Scale; the questionnaire they completed replaced the word “smartphone” with the name of the app. Factors like social withdrawal and interference with daily functioning were considered. Many of the study participants showed signs of TikTok use disorder. What exactly makes this app so addictive?
In a Forbes article titled “Digital Crack Cocaine: The Science Behind TikTok’s Success,” journalist John Koetsier explores the truth behind TikTok addiction. After speaking with USC professor Dr. Julie Albright, Koetsier claims that the app has embraced the very tactics that make gambling so addictive.
“In psychological terms, [it’s] called random reinforcement,” said Dr. Albright. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… That’s how these platforms are designed. They’re exactly like a slot machine. We don’t often talk about how our devices and these apps have these same addictive qualities baked into them.”
This pattern of reinforcement has real-world implications for teen minds. As stated above, those who showed high levels of dependency on TikTok performed worse on both types of digit span tests. This implies that those addicted to the smartphone app may be afflicted by reduced working memory capacity. Higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress might provide another explanation for the teens’ memory issues.
Help for Teens with Social Media Addiction
Whether your child is constantly scrolling TikTok, Instagram, or another social networking app, you may have grown concerned about their mental health. If you suspect that your adolescent has become addicted to social media – and that it’s affecting their quality of life – help is available.
The Forum offers proven therapeutic services for those between the ages of 12 and 17. The teenage years are already extremely challenging; mental illness, memory problems, and technology addiction can make things overwhelming. Our approach addresses the real-life issues your child faces on a day-to-day basis. With the help of our licensed therapists, your teenager will learn valuable life skills that will provide them with a solid foundation for adulthood.
To learn more about our services, contact The Forum today.