TikTok will automatically install a new daily time limit for the accounts of all users under the age of 18.
The Beijing-based social media app is extremely popular among American teens and has been criticized for negatively impacting the well-being of underage users. TikTok says its new 60-minute daily limit is based on “current academic research” conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital’s Digital Wellness Lab.
“We’ll continue to invest in improving our current features as well as introducing new tools to help people stay in control as they express their creativity, make meaningful connections, and enjoy culture-defining entertainment,” said TikTok.
When a user whose profile lists them as under the age of 18 reaches the daily limit, he or she will be prompted to enter a passcode to continue using the app. TikTok says this changes user behavior by “requiring them to make an active decision to extend that time.”
“We’re also prompting teens to set a daily screen time limit if they opt out of the 60-minute default and spend more than 100 minutes on TikTok in a day,” the social media company added.”This builds on a prompt we rolled out last year to encourage teens to enable screen time management; our tests found this approach helped increase the use of our screen time tools by 234%.”
Since its American launch in September 2017, TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity. The majority of its users are between the ages of 12 and 34 with an estimated 17% falling between the ages of 12 and 17. TikTok surpassed YouTube as the video platform children ages 4 to 18 spent more time per day in June of 2020. By the end of 2021, children spent an average of 56 minutes per day on YouTube and an average of 91 minutes per day on TikTok.
“The broader picture this data paints is one where the world’s largest video platform may be losing its grip on the next generation of web users — specifically, Gen Z and Gen Alpha,” TechCrunch reported in July of 2022. “Gen Z is typically thought to include people born between the mid- to late-1990s and the 2010s. Meanwhile, Gen Alpha — a generation whose childhood was put on pause by Covid, then driven online — includes those born after the early to mid-2010s.”
Parents and legislators have expressed concern about the effect of social media on young Americans’ well-being, citing links to over-sexualization, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Dr. Jaclyn Halpern of Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates told the Psychiatric Times that there is a “critical need for research on the impact of individual platforms and content.”
“Current research has shown a mix of both positive and negative outcomes resulting from social media use,” Halpern noted. “As with TikTok, there is early research suggesting both positive (eating disorder recovery) and negative (pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia) impacts of eating disorder content on multiple social media platforms.”
In addition to its time limit features, TikTok has expanded its Family Pairing control panel to better “partner” with parents or guardians of teens.
Parents using the Family Pairing tools can set custom daily limits depending on the day of the week and read summaries of their child’s use – including records of “time on the app, the number of times TikTok was opened, and a breakdown of total time spent during the day and night.” Parents will also have the option to mute TikTok’s notifications, although the company notes “accounts aged 13-15 already do not receive push notifications from 9pm and accounts aged 16-17 have push notifications disabled from 10pm.”
“We hope these features will continue to help families establish an ongoing dialogue about safety and well-being in our digital world,” TikTok said in its March 1 announcement.
TikTok plans to offer the ability to mute notifications and set customized screen time limits to all users in the future.
“In addition, we’re rolling out a sleep reminder to help people more easily plan when they want to be offline at night,” said TikTok. “People can set a time, and when it’s reached, a pop-up will remind them it’s time to log off.”