Is TikTok boosting or busting young people’s mental health?

The age at which children enter the world of social media is dropping, with twelve and a half years old being the average. However, recent research raises concerns about the effects of increased social media use on young people’s mental health, such as anxiety, isolation and depression. 

A 2019 Jama Pediatrics study shows four years of heavy social media usage correlated with elevated depression rates in middle and high school students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these issues, as adolescents’ need for peer interaction clashes with lockdowns and online learning [1]. Social media, including TikTok, has become a coping mechanism for many.

TikTok, a rapidly growing video-sharing platform, has taken center stage in youth culture, attracting over one billion users globally, primarily aged 10 to 29 [2]. It has even surpassed Instagram as the most-used app among 12 to 17-year-olds.

Alarming data from the World Health Organization reveals that one in seven adolescents faced mental health challenges in 2021, a significant part of TikTok’s audience [3]. As TikTok gains popularity, parents, policymakers, and clinicians raise concerns regarding its impact on youth mental health. The platform’s influence seems to have two sides.

TikTok: A double-edged sword

While TikTok gives young people a sense of belonging and validation, it also gives them a sense of community. For those grappling with social anxiety or depression, the platform offers a space to interact online.

However, excessive online engagement can hinder face-to-face interactions, exacerbating feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression. The “culture of comparison” fostered by platforms like TikTok can intensify negative self-perception, leading to more significant risks of depression [4].

Yet, the debate continues. Some experts remain cautious about TikTok’s influence due to its content and potential ethical issues [5]. The platform’s content can pressure children and teens and there’s concern about encountering online predators [6].

Mental health downsides

TikTok’s impact on mental health is not uniform. Research indicates that it can exacerbate mental health conditions, with some patients experiencing worsened symptoms [7].

Cyberbullying, social exclusion and drama on these platforms are linked to higher rates of mental health issues in adolescents. Children with existing mental health challenges or trauma might temporarily experience increased emotional symptoms due to TikTok use [8].

Positive sides: Knowledge and community

TikTok can serve as an avenue for discussing mental health openly. Users with different conditions can connect and share their experiences, reducing feelings of isolation. By realizing they’re not alone, individuals can form a supportive community.

Validation and connection

TikTok can also provide validation for those struggling with mental health. Sharing personal stories, like an individual’s journey with ADHD, can resonate with others facing similar challenges [9]. Mental health professionals on TikTok also help create safe spaces for often-stigmatized discussions.

New study insights

A recent Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry study delves into TikTok’s impact on public and youth mental health. Despite its ubiquity, TikTok has received limited academic psychology and psychiatry attention. The study highlights varied uses of TikTok in promoting mental health, though institutional engagement has been slow [10].

Navigating TikTok for positive mental health

Given the mixed and early-stage research, experts suggest strategies for healthy TikTok engagement [11]:

  • Teaching adolescents to set boundaries and manage their social media use can mitigate negative effects.
  • Creating guidelines for posting, liking, and interacting online helps establish healthy habits
  • Encouraging limits during mealtimes and before sleep fosters a balanced relationship with technology.

Parental role

Parents play a vital role in guiding their children’s online behavior. Monitoring screen time and social media usage from an early age is essential. Parental controls can provide an extra layer of security.

Modeling healthy behavior by putting away screens and engaging in conversations with children contributes to their overall well-being.

Careful consideration, open communication,and responsible digital habits are crucial in the ongoing debate surrounding TikTok’s impact on youth mental health.


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