A recent British survey commissioned by media regulator Ofcom found that 16% of toddlers aged 3-4 years old are already watching videos on TikTok.
In the 5-7-year-old group, a third are now TikTok users. That is despite the age restrictions on the app stating that users must be 13 or older. The same research found that enforcement of this age restriction is low, especially when parents create profiles for kids or hand over their phones for kids to watch.
In light of the continued growing use of this and other social media apps by kids and teens, research has begun to look more closely at what watching this kind of content may be doing to our brains.
According to a new report in The Wall Street Journal, a phenomenon being called “TikTok Brain” leads to shortened attention spans in kids and addictive behavior surrounding these apps.
The report is based, in part, on a study that looked specifically at the short-form content on TikTok delivered to users using a personalized algorithm on a landing page known by users as the “For You” page. The researchers looked at how watching these personalized videos, instead of general interest or videos at random, affected the brain through MRI imaging.
The MRI images of participants who watched this type of content were highly activated in the brain’s addiction centers, and some users struggled to control when to stop watching.
Researchers are concerned that this could lead to shortened attention spans in kids and difficulty participating in activities that require sustained attention, such as reading, math, or general problem-solving. Kids’ brains may become accustomed to the short videos and fast-changing content and may have difficulty with non-digital activities that move more slowly.
While this is not the only app that could be leading to these problems, TikTok says it is working on ways to reduce excessive app time by potentially changing the algorithm.
More research will be needed to determine the long-term impacts of using these apps on kids, as these studies are only the beginning.
But we also know, from other previous studies, that excessive social media use may also be associated with mental health problems in teens.
So, what can parents do? Like everything, moderation is key. Altogether banning kids from participating in the digital world may not be realistic. And there are certainly positive aspects to social media, like the social connection it provides, the ability to learn and gather more information than ever before, and the positive content that can come from these platforms, to name a few.
If you want your kids to be able to focus and to ward off some of these potentially adverse effects, they will have to practice. Limiting screen time by setting certain boundaries and creating opportunities for exercise and playtime (especially outdoors) is a simple but effective strategy to help kids find the balance their brains need!