Faryal couldn’t get good grades in her A levels so now her mother is extremely worried about her future. She waits outside a psychiatry clinic at a private hospital with her daughter and shares her concern, “With no A grades, I don’t think she is going to get admission in any reputable university. She couldn’t clear her entry test at IBA; she is always absent-minded and it seems to me she is no more interested in studies. She is only concerned about dressing up, going out with friends and making TikTok videos. My colleague asked me to take her to a psychologist. I hope they can motivate her to study further.”
Like Faryal’s mother, there are numerous parents right now who are not happy with their children spending all their time on social media at the cost of their health and studies. Faryal is lucky because her mother is taking steps to help her and can also afford medical help, but not all young people have this privilege. Currently, TikTok has more than one billion active users and is a dominant platform for teenagers and youth. There is no denying that TikTok has played a positive role in spreading useful messages on topics like self-confidence, body positivity, racism, etc., but its manipulative and addictive nature is a matter of concern for most parents.
Us spoke to Farheen Shaheen, a Clinical Psychologist at The Brain Clinic, to learn about how excessive use of social media sites like TikTok are affecting the mental health of young people and what adults can do to help them.
What makes TikTok a toxic space for youth
Before talking about how TikTok affects people negatively, I will mention here how this platform has been an amazing source of entertainment and connection for people around the world. It is an absolutely amazing outlet for self-expression that boosts self-esteem in young people. We all remember that in times of Covid, it was the social media that helped people deal with loneliness and depression. In fact, a lot of people earned a living through making TikTok videos and reels on Instagram. But, unfortunately, it seems we are hardwired for negativity; bad things affect us more than the good ones. Due to the unlimited content production and easy access to TikTok, young people have become so addicted to watching videos that they end up wasting most of their precious time. This endless scrolling creates a numbing effect in our brain since there is a lot of information to be processed.
Researchers say two hours of recreational screen time is recommended, but in the post-covid area when everything is almost back to normal, we recommend one hour of screen time for teens and children.
Kids are spending all their free time on mobile phones. So, there is no physical activity which is key to maintaining their mental health. And face-to-face interaction with other people is also reduced that results in feelings of isolation among young people. Real conversations can’t be replaced completely by online chats.
TikTok contributes to narcissism
On social media, you post content for other people to see; which means you rely on likes, comments and shares to measure your success. If you look at the content on TikTok very closely, you will see young people obsessed with their physical appearance or public image. Mostly, young TikTokers use filters to look perfect; their content is just face transformation videos; they are obsessed about how rich they are by making “Try on haul” videos; they make videos where their partner is too affectionate to them; they make videos of themselves working out in the gym looking fit in their sportswear. Most trending videos usually promote self-obsession in one way or another. All of this leads to developing narcissism – a personality disorder - in which “people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.”
Cyberbullying is another concern
Cyberbullying is one of the worst forms of bullying. In February 2022, TikTok removed more than 6 million videos from Pakistan because of inappropriate content. Also, comments section can get extremely toxic if bullies start posting insulting comments, and the private texts can also be quite upsetting for some. Anxiety, discomfort and avoidance of social interaction are commonly experienced when young people face such situations. So, if you are too active on social media, you are most likely to face bullying.
Now, anybody can access the personal information you add to your profile. On the basis of the information, young people can get pranked or harassed quite easily. We tell kids not to keep their profiles private, but they want views and likes of other users of social media to feel “liked” and “accepted”. Even random friend requests on Facebook bring instant gratification to people. And then eventually, such kids become victims of abuse online. And we all know abuse has long term effects on the mental health of kids if it is not dealt with properly.
The trend culture and consumerism TikTok has become a space where we learn the more clothes, perfumes, candles or mugs we buy, the happier we will be. But it’s not the case. Remember, excessive consumption can’t make you happy! Everyday you will be told by some TikTok influencer that you don’t have “this jumpsuit” or “that handbag” to make your life amazing. And if you can’t afford it, you will feel deprived and anxious.
We have observed that the mood of despondency has set in. Satisfaction and inner peace have become rare qualities.
The dangers of self-diagnosis
Our youth is now self-diagnosing psychological problems on social media which is yet another dangerous trend very common these days. Mostly, our youth just google symptoms, and successfully diagnose themselves with some dangerous psychological condition. We must not forget an accurate diagnosis can only be made through clinical evaluation. Patients come to us telling symptoms and saying they have OCD and depression. It could be just stress or simple anxiety, but based on the information they gather online, they self-diagnose themselves and use technical terms without even understanding them. There are videos on TikTok where people are going through bad things in their life and they document it through making sad videos and telling people they are dealing with depression or bipolar disorder. Such videos are manipulative since we don't know how honest people are. Everything on social media is scripted.
Setting unrealistic expectations
We mostly get patients struggling with their marital relationships. And I have observed that most of the couples have unrealistic expectations about marriage. Couples unconsciously compare their relationships with relationships shown on social media, where people are shown honeymooning in Paris or Maldives, dinning in gourmet restaurants, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and sharing expensive gifts. All this content portrays an idealized version of marriage. Young people think this is the way relationships are. They don’t realize that it is just one tiny aspect of the real life.
Healthy relationships go through ups and downs and they all take work, commitment and a willingness to adapt and change.
What can we do to help youth use TikTok mindfully?
Parental involvement can be of great help, here. We understand these days mostly both parents are working full time so it’s difficult for them to spend a lot of time with their kids, so we tell parents and adults to spend quality time with their children. Ask them how their day went, and talk to them about their friends and teachers. Use social media with them and teach them lessons along the way.
Also, share your good and bad experiences with them.Just remember strictness will create a distance between you and your child. Authoritative parenting is a concept in psychology that says parents should appreciate successes of their children and if they make mistakes, give them constructive feedback.
Also, we must teach our kids to understand that life isn’t a bed of roses. What social media shows is just a small part of reality. While you scroll through the reels and videos, tell yourself everything is scripted and all characters are acting out their roles. This will automatically eliminate the feeling of despondency prevailing among youngsters.
Another advice is setting up routine for yourself. There should be specific time for waking up, and then studying, exercising and using social media. This way your life will feel more organized. The less screen time you will have, the more mindfully you will consume social media.