TikTok Addiction Is Your Fault


Learning from her friends that TikTok view counts were all zeros, and thinking that this was a signal that TikTok was about to be banned, my friend’s 12-year-old daughter ran up to her mom and excitedly said, “OMG! Will things go back to normal now?”

A little background: this 12-year-old girl’s parents do not allow her to use TikTok, which makes sense for obvious reasons. However, all of her friends and classmates are on TikTok, which is how she came to learn (via text message) that TikTok view counts were zeroed out.

Social Media Peer Pressure

Why was she gleeful? Because this otherwise normal, happy, 12-year-old girl is under immense peer pressure to be on TikTok. She understands why her parents won’t let her use it, but that understanding does nothing to help her social situation; she’s “not cool” and she’s “not important” because she’s not on TikTok. “Normal,” in her mind, is a world that is not ruled by likes, views, and follower metrics. I do not want to be the one to break the news to her that the world is now divided into two categories: people who are famous for 15 seconds, and people who aren’t.

Parental Guidance Suggested “Rated PG-13”

Why is every 12-year-old in this girl’s world on TikTok? You need to be 13 years old to open an account. Where are their parents? Why do 12-year-olds have unrestricted access to the internet? Why would anyone think this is OK? Regulation starts at home.

Said differently, when you taught your child to cross the street, you took their hand, told them to look both ways, and when it looked safe, you walked purposefully (but not fast) across the street. Did you do this once? No. You did it countless times.

To a young mind, social media is as dangerous as crossing a busy street by yourself. Continuous adult supervision (“parenting”) is absolutely required. If you want your kids to aspire to dance erotically in their underwear with the goal of accumulating 1.5 million views, I will not judge you. However, you need to be aware of the alignment of outcomes and incentives on TikTok (and all social media). If you are a parent of young children in 2020, this is technology you absolutely must become an expert in. You are the first generation of social media parents; it is a job that needs your undivided attention.

Why Not Just Ban Social Media?

I am singling out TikTok in this article, but this problem exists in various degrees on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap, Twitch, Fortnite and other social gaming and social video apps. That said, there is no reason to ban technology or innovation. There are, however, reasons to regulate its use. In fact, TikTok (and the Chinese government) are so aware of social media addiction, TikTok has Chinese government–mandated anti-addiction tools built in.

How to Set In-App Usage Limits on TikTok

  • Open the TikTok app.
  • Tap the person icon labeled “Me” in the bottom right corner.
  • Tap the 3 dots in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Scroll down to the “General” section and tap “Digital Wellbeing” (4th item).
    • Choose “Screen Time Management” in order to: Manage your screen time. When the time limit is reached, a passcode will be required to keep using TikTok. You can also set a passcode to keep using TikTok or turn Screen Time Management off. Follow the on-screen instructions to do so. There is a big red bar at the bottom of the screen that toggles the mode on and off. When the bar is green, the feature is activated.
    • Choose “Restricted Mode” to help limit the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for some audiences. You can set a passcode to turn off Restricted Mode here as well. Follow the on-screen instructions to do so. There is a big red bar at the bottom of the screen that toggles the mode on and off. When the bar is green, the feature is activated.

Two Related Problems That Must Be Discussed

There are two different problems presented by social media today.

First is the amplification of “the best narrative wins.” In practice, the best narrative is rarely presented in a way that encourages or empowers people to think for themselves. All media, from the first cave painting to the present, are editorialized. This is an inherent fact of all communication, and it is as old as communication itself. But unfettered, AI-tuned amplification of nonsense by the willfully ignorant over worldwide communications platforms is only a few years old and we (as a society) have no idea how to deal with it. Said differently, your comfort zone may destroy the world.

Second, and equally important, you can talk about free will vs. censorship all you like. No one who is being fed content by an AI model tuned (and continuously improved and optimized) to cause your brain to produce dopamine has free will. You may have the discipline to turn an app off or not to open the app to begin with, but you do not have free will “not to feel” the dopamine release – that is, a physiological response to the stimulus.

Want to know what other kinds of outside stimulus have a similar impact on your physiology? Sex, comfort food (sugar, high-carb foods, pretty much anything that tastes good), and for a lucky few, exercise.

TikTok and all social media addiction is 100 percent your fault. Your body is naturally selected to allow you to become addicted to it. This has become a serious problem. It’s time to take it seriously.


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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

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