The danger of TikTok: Mum’s ‘heartbreak’ at 10-year-old’s reaction to using the app for a week
When Annika’s daughter begged her to download TikTok “for the baking videos” the Melbourne mum didn’t think it would hurt, but within a week the 10-year-old was in tears at the dinner table.
“I was shocked that it had such a quick effect on her,” Annika told news.com.au.
Like many parents Annika was reluctant to allow her child access to the app but her daughter’s friends were already using it and allowing her daughter Sarah* to watch a few videos seemed harmless.
“Within a week she had burst into tears at the dinner table for not being pretty enough — like the girls on TikTok — I took it off straightaway,” Annika said.
“It made me realise how sensitive she was and how sensitive she would be in the future for online stuff.
“I was also heartbroken to see her that insecure about it and I felt angry at myself for weakening and letting her get it.”
Annika said she had not known much about TikTok before and she mostly associated it with the viral dances that had become popular over the years.
“When we were out and about, there would be teenage girls in front of a phone and Sarah would say they were doing a TikTok dance — you could spot it a mile away.”
Annika is one of many parents who are struggling to navigate the world of social media and screen time amid a pandemic that has made it even more difficult to say no.
“Especially during COVID, I think a lot of parents would agree that they are a lot weaker, they are more likely to agree to that extra hour of screentime and more likely to make concessions,” she said.
“The kids are spending so much more time on screens and they’ve become more addicted through home schooling.
“For years we’ve been trying to keep them away from screens but now they are on there six hours a day for school, then want to go back for gaming and other things. It’s a battle.”
The 44-year-old said watching the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma has also made her more wary of social media.
The documentary has created waves worldwide after showing how platforms harvest personal data to target users with ads, prompting many to take breaks or delete their accounts.
UK publication The Independent even described it as possibly “the most important documentary of our times”.
Some of the scenes in the documentary have hit close to home for parents like Annika, who has had to take measures to stop her children from excessive screentime.
“We literally have to take all the screens into my room every night,” she said.
She said she was also constantly changing the passwords on her laptops and iPads.
“I’ve gone in to check if my son is asleep and he has been on his laptop or iPad, it’s too tempting for them.”
It’s not just the children that are addicted. Annika said she took Facebook and Instagram off her own phone for a period of time, although she hasn’t deleted her accounts.
“When I told the kids they were gobsmacked because I am always on my phone,” Annika said.
Parents also addicted
Melbourne mother-of-two, Chloe, 37, also admitted to struggling with her own use of social media in the past, and now tries to limit her children to 15-minute increments online.
“I’ve definitely been hooked on Facebook, I had to delete it off my phone,” she told news.com.au.
“About two years ago I put it back on for a week or so but I just started to get that sick feeling — it’s so impulsive to pick up the phone and have a little look, it doesn’t feel good.
“I felt like I was wasting my time and was sort of aware of the dopamine rush and then crash afterwards. I think it crushed my creativity a lot, I used to be a highly creative person and I think it dulls that quite a lot and that makes me sad.”
Chloe allows her nine-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter access to TikTok and some video games but she sees how unhealthy it is for them.
“The longer they are on it, it seems the grumpier they are,” she said.
“It’s on their mind all the time, if you say they can have it at 2pm, they are always thinking about it, like their whole day is geared around when they’re going to get a screen.”
As a family they watched The Social Dilemma and Chloe said her daughter supports her hiding her iPod from her.
“She wants me to hide it for her,” Chloe said. “She even asked me to find a new hiding place because she knew where it was.”
Father-of-three Tom* has contradictory feelings about screen time, especially as his sons aged nine and 12 use it to socialise.
“It’s a social outlet, especially for the older one,” he said. “He’s hardly seen his mates face-to-face but he has spent hours playing games with them.”
However, he said some Melbourne parents had become so concerned about the amount of screen time their children were getting during lockdown that they had started a Facebook group chat to discuss the issue with each other.
Eventually it was decided the parents needed to step in and organise non-screen time for their children to see each other.
“The kids aren’t going out of their way to organise outside play so we are just going to have to do it for them,” Tom said.
“I think we are all worried about it but at the moment it’s hard to say ‘no, you can’t hang out with your mates’ when it’s all they have.”
Young people are disconnecting
Clinical psychologist Dr Andrew Fuller said social media could be problematic for some children as they tended to absorb what others said about them.
“They’re trusting and that’s a risk because if they believe everything everyone says about them, they can end up with a very negative view of themselves,” he said.
“Before they are 13 (years old) you’ve got to be pretty careful because kids might not evaluate things in a logical way that an adult might.”
On the positive side social media could help people to connect with others who shared their interests and make them feel less abnormal. The negative side is comparison and envy.
Dr Fuller said parents had to make a judgment about each individual child’s maturity, as some could be more susceptible than others, with young girls often finding it more damaging than boys, although this wasn’t always true.
“When you’re a young teenager, you imagine the world is always looking at you, how pretty you are, how you talk, how skinny you are. Social media amplifies that,” he said.
He said people needed to understand that social media was about sharing opinions, but that not every opinion was true.
“You’ve got to be selective about what opinions you believe,” Dr Fuller said.
“If you can’t do that you probably should stay away from people’s opinions.”
There were also times when people felt more sensitive or vulnerable and this was also a time to avoid others’ views.
“The idea is to help young people become mature users of social media as it’s probably here to stay,” Dr Fuller said.
“If you can’t manage that you’re probably better to walk away from it.”
In fact Dr Fuller said an increasing number of young people seeing him were choosing to disconnect.
“They are saying ‘it’s not for me’, because they do take on people’s opinions … so they are not going to use it,” he said.
However, Dr Fuller said humans were naturally addicted to social media and had been so throughout history.
“Whether it’s teens on phones talking to their peers, or whether it’s on computers, we love community connection,” he said.
“It’s our great attraction and great vulnerability.”
Children shouldn't be on these apps
Butterfly Foundation national manager prevention services Danni Rowlands told news.com.au parents should try and stick to the recommended ages for the use of social media.
While TikTok and other platforms including Facebook state their users should be over the age of 13, many young children appear to be creating accounts, especially on TikTok.
“Children are getting access to these platforms and are being introduced to them at a young age,” she said.
“One of the big impacts we see is on body image and self esteem.”
She said there were limited studies about the impact of social media on children as the recommended age for their use is 13 years and over, but a survey done by Girlguiding in the UK found 39 per cent of girls and young women aged 11-21, felt upset that they couldn’t look the way they do online.
The popularity of filters on TikTok and other social media has helped create an unrealistic image of what young people should look like.
Ms Rowlands said tweens were especially aware of their image and compared themselves to others, as well as people they see on TV shows and social media.
The Social Dilemma also pointed to the huge rise in depression and anxiety among young people in the US since the rise of social media.
New York University School of Business social psychologist Jonathan Haidt noted there had been a 189 per cent increase in depression and anxiety among pre-teen girls since 2011, and an 151 per cent increase in suicide.
'here will be backlash'After her experience with TikTok, Annika said her daughter told her she didn't want to be on social media anymore."This is where I really think there will be a backlash as the younger generation are wise to it," Annika said."Things are more out in the open now because of The Social Dilemma."Kids are smart and I'm hoping that's the case, although they also have very short memories so Sarah could get to 14 and want her own phone and forget all about that."Annika said she was thankful that her daughter had been open about how she was feeling and luckily her dad was a counsellor and they were able to talk about it."I fear for the kids who don't know how to communicate their insecurities about social media and stuff online, and don't know how to talk about it with their parents."Ms Rowlands said it was important for parents to find a way to communicate in a non-judgemental way and not seek to shame their children for using the apps."They need to help their children become aware of how social media works and how it can impact the way they feel about their body," she said."They are preying on body insecurity and it's really dangerous, a lot of adults can't combat that and so expecting a child or teenager to do that is actually a really tough ask."Parents also needed to understand the platforms their children were using, and to help their children understand and protect themselves if they saw something concerning.She recommended the eSafety Commissioner website as a good resource."It is challenging, it's not a simple thing to do," she said."Once a child is on social media, there will always be the next platform," she said.*Not their real names
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