Last week TikTok in the US said it will implement a default one-hour time limit on the app for users under the age of 18. The move comes amid a severe mental health crisis among young people nationwide.
The idea behind the time limit is to give kids a reminder that they can take a break from the app and be more aware of how they spend their time.
Kids under 18 who reach the new automatic time limit will have to enter a passcode in order to keep watching. However, for children under the age of 13, a parent or guardian will need to set the password in order to give an additional 30 minutes of screen time.
In the announcement, TikTok’s head of trust and safety Cormac Keenan noted “there’s no collectively-endorsed position on the ‘right’ amount of screen time or even the impact of screen time more broadly.” He also noted the decision is based on consultations with experts at the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital.
While rates of anxiety and depression rose all over the globe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy was one of the first top government officials to shine a light on the mental health crisis among teens in particular. At the end of 2021, Murthy officially declared a mental health crisis among young people.
Still, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown those worrying trends are continuing. The CDC found that more than half of teen girls in the U.S. felt “persistently sad or hopeless,” reaching the highest level in a decade.
Some of those mental health conditions can be linked to trauma, violence and sexual assault. But it also opened up the conversation around the high rates of social media usage among teens and how that might be driving depression or anxiety.
Since the advent of Facebook and Instagram, researchers have had some time to study the negative effects of social media on people’s mental health. One 2022 study found that social media increased depression and anxiety among college students.
Still, there’s less research on TikTok specifically – probably because it’s been around a much shorter time. One 2021 study published in Frontiers in Public Health sought to examine research on the “psychology of TikTok use” and found that it’s quite scarce. In short, not enough studies have been done to truly understand how TikTok is impacting mental health in either the short or long term.
“We believe it is high time for researchers to put research energy into the study of TikTok,” the authors wrote. “It needs to be studied how active and passive use [of TikTok] impacts the well-being of users.”
For some users who are already self-aware of TikTok’s detrimental effects on their mental health, iPhone time limits can actually be helpful. In one video, user Sarah Magusara noted she’s often scrolling through her fyp (for you page) before bed “making myself feel sad.”
“I would always be on sad tiktok at night for some reason which wasn’t good for me,” Magusara wrote. “I added this time limit onto all my socials so I don’t get tempted.”
Meanwhile, others have cheekily noted that those iPhone app time limits can be ineffective for many, because it’s easy to simply click “remind me in 15 minutes” or “ignore limit for today.” Ultimately, the time limit feature still relies heavily on users’ self-control.