Skip to main content

How TikTok affects children’s mental health

From humble beginnings as a short music lip-syncing app, TikTok has taken the world by storm. It has firmly nested itself in the lives of millions of children and teenagers worldwide. While on the surface it seems like a harmless app filled with dance, singing and life hacks, there has been a darkside brewing. In the past year we have seen growing concerns about the impact it has on children and young people's mental health and wellbeing. In this blog, we will explore the reasons behind this backlash.


Tiktok and children's mental health

Boy looks at mobile phone under the covers

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media app that allows users to create and share short videos. It was launched in 2016 by a Chinese company called ByteDance. To give you an idea of its popularity, it has over a billion active users in 150 countries. 

The content on TikTok ranges from funny skits to dance videos, lip-syncs, cooking tutorials, and more. The app is particularly popular among younger generations.

Influencer culture 

Well before TikTok’s rise to fame, online influencers were making their name on YouTube and Facebook. You can think of them as online celebrities that have gained a large following on social media, sometimes in the millions.  

They often present themselves as very relatable, particularly to young people. They are fun, engaging and commonly a little wacky. They usually have a focus, such as beauty, fitness, music or gaming. 

TikTok’s popularity is very much an extension of this boom in influencer culture. 

Macho mentality 

Many of these influencers are considered harmless, uplifting and even educational. However, places online, especially where young people spend a lot of time, have a tendency to be exploited.  

Toxic masculinity is nothing new, but there has been a notable increase in its promotion online, especially on TikTok. Probably the most high-profile example of this is Andrew Tate. His arrest and detention hurled this debate into the spotlight. 

The former kickboxer, turned online influencer, has been strongly criticised for promoting misogynistic ideas that men should be dominant and aggressive, and that women should be submissive. These gender stereotypes are harmful and lead to young boys believing they need to conform to these gender roles in order to be accepted. 

young man on computer

Keeping children safe online

We fight for this right by spreading the word of online safety and working with children at risk of being groomed online.

Body image and how it affects mental health

Negative body image

For some people TikTok has been said to contribute to low confidence and self-esteem, especially when it comes to the way we look. Young people are being exposed to videos featuring people with the ‘perfect’ body and the ‘perfect’ life.  

From influencers with toned abs, to diet culture trends, these videos can have a significant impact on a child's body image. Seeing these videos regularly can lead to an unrealistic view of what a "normal" body looks like. Some believe this has played a part in the rise of eating disorders in young people in recent years. 

Teenage girl filming herself for a video

Infinite scrolling

Is TikTok addictive? The answer to that really depends on who you ask. So far there aren’t any long-term studies to suggest either way, but scientists are working to understand the allure of this viral app.

One thing that can be said is TikTok’s algorithm is cleverly designed to entice you to keep scrolling through and watching video after video. This is great for the platform's engagement metrics, but less so for children’s mental health.  

Spending too much time on social media can impact stress levels and sleep. But some young people are trying to kick the habit. There have been reports of students deleting the app around exam time because it is so disruptive to their study. 

Online awareness 

While we’ve focused on some of the negative impacts TikTok can have on children and young people, it isn’t all bad. TikTok can be an entertaining and engaging platform. It offers a space for people to express themselves in whatever way they like. 

That being said, it is important to be aware of the influence it can play in shaping young minds, for better or for worse. In settings TikTok has “Digital Wellbeing” tools that means you can set daily screen time and limit certain videos with Restricted Mode.  

You can help support our work to improve the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

Author: Edward Herbert