Brain healthDealing with distractionsFocus

Warning: Welcome to TikTok hell

The downside of TikTok

Have you ever been sucked in by a clickbait title?

I have. Many times.

The problem is when I’m tired, I have very little willpower. I can’t help myself. I click on ridiculous headlines. And I usually always regret it.

For example, a few weeks ago I came across an article about a young couple who were building a house for zero dollars. I was intrigued by the concept so I clicked on a TikTok video the couple had created . . .

Big mistake.

Five minutes later, I was still watching TikTok videos.

It’s as if I had been hypnotised by these short 15 second looping videos of the couple eating pizza, picking up floor tiles, dancing in a car park . . .

My husband walked in and said “What are you doing?”

This instantly snapped me out of my TikTok trance.

But I noticed I felt a little unsettled. A bit mentally jangled. And I had only been on there for a few minutes. I thought . . .

“How do teenagers handle TikTok?”

I genuinely wanted to know. So a few days later, I spoke to a few students about TikTok. Here’s what I found . . .

1. TikTok’s algorithms know you better than you know yourself

One year 12 student shared this with me . . .

“At first, I thought TikTok was boring. But then the algorithms figured out what I liked and I couldn’t get off it. It’s so addictive.”

He also mentioned how his best friend refused to use TikTok. I asked why that was. He said:

“He doesn’t have time for it. He’s far too busy with other stuff. He plays footy and he’s on the student council and does lots of things. So I say to him “You don’t need it!””

2. TikTok can be time consuming

Don’t be misled by the short 15 second videos. Students tell me they spend a lot of time on TikTok.

Since the algorithms can quickly work out what you like, it’s all too easy to get sucked down the TikTok rabbit hole.

A year 11 student asked me with a look of shame:

“How can I stop scrolling? Once I start, I can’t stop.”

It was as if she thought she was the only person struggling with this.

I explained to her that it wasn’t her fault. “These apps are designed to hook you in”, I said.

App designers don’t want you to stop scrolling and swiping. At the end of the day, that’s how they make their money – by stealing your time and attention.

3. TikTok shortens your attention span

I asked some students, “Do you think TikTok has affected your ability to focus?”

Common responses were “Probably” or “Definitely”.

Some people told me they would swipe when they came across one minute videos on TikTok. One person said:

“The one minute videos just feel long and rambly.”

When the human brain consumes a constant stream of highly entertaining 15 second videos, how can this not affect one’s attention span?

The thing about the teenage brain is that it’s still developing. This dopamine inducing content is bound to rewire the brain in a way that makes it challenging to stay focused in class.

4. TikTok = It’s show time!

Some students said they used TikTok but they didn’t make any videos. They simply watched videos other people had made.

“What sort of videos do you like watching?”, I asked a group of year 11 girls.

One student pulled out her phone and showed me a video that had gone viral. The video was created by some year 11 boys who claimed they were ‘The hottest boys’ at their school. These boys were putting themselves on show and really working it for the camera.

I couldn’t tell if it was comedy or if they were being serious . . . either way, it made me realise some young people must experience huge pressure to look and act a certain way.

5. TikTok is an average form of art/entertainment

I get that we all need a little down time. Time to switch off, relax and have a little fun. But there are good ways to relax and entertain ourselves and not so good ways.

A year 12 student said she enjoyed watching TikTok videos of people making art and cooking. I thought, “What about actually making some art instead of watching videos of other people doing it?”

You could argue it’s only a few 15 second videos. But all those little 15 second videos (on loop) add up over time. I would much prefer to get stuck into a good documentary, online course or book. But hey, each to their own.

6. TikTok is full of show-offs and scammers

When I asked students “What sort of videos do you watch on TikTok?”, one year 11 boy said he liked watching videos on financial and investing advice. I thought “Financial advice? On TikTok?”

If someone is delivering financial advice in 15 second videos, alarm bells are going off for me. What good advice can this person possibly be offering me in such a short period of time?

I felt worried for this young man. But I thought “Perhaps I’m overreacting.”

I wasn’t overreacting.

It turns out TikTok is a cesspool of self styled financial gurus and narcissists who have no skills or qualifications whatsoever. Don’t be fooled by someone flashing wads of cash and driving around in a luxury car. There’s a good chance this person is making their money from selling expensive courses (not from actually investing).

In a recent Guardian article called A Smart Deal? journalist Sirin Kale writes about young people losing their life savings and getting into serious debt by investing in cryptocurrencies.

Where were these people getting financial advice from?

You guessed it . . . TikTok and YouTube videos.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, my investigation into the world of TikTok made me feel incredibly sad.

Here’s what I concluded:

1. TikTok is highly addictive;
2. Many students feel the pressure to be on show all the time (and yet lack the emotional maturity to be able to handle this); and
3. In a world filled with uncertainty, people are looking for quick fixes (e.g. how to get rich quickly).

But sadly, there are very few quick fixes to big existential issues. And you’re certainly not going to find them on TikTok.

Now, of course, I realise it’s not all bad. I know you can make some amazing videos and learn great dance moves on TikTok.

But like anything in life, it would be foolish to just blindly accept this technology and not question the impact its having on our lives.

If you use TikTok and other social media, ask yourself, “Is this helping me be the person I want to be?” and “Is this helping me to achieve my goals and aspirations?”

If it isn’t, perhaps it’s time to scale back your use. Alternatively, you could delete TikTok altogether and see how that makes you feel.

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