Spotlight on TikTok Reveals Dangers of Teen Viewing Habits

Teens spend more than seven hours per day watching screens

Key Takeaways

  • US teens are increasing their screen time.
  • TikTok has 100m US users.
  • Socioeconomic status reflected.
A mobile phone featuring the TikTok app is displayed next to the American flag
Cindy Ord / Getty Images

TikTok’s ongoing legal battle with the Trump administration has put the mobile video platform front and center in the global spotlight, revealing a sea change in the way young people worldwide get their entertainment.

Trump effectively banned the platform from operating in the US in an executive order and the Chinese-based company filed a federal lawsuit in response. TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer this week announced his resignation in a statement, saying the political environment has “sharply changed.”

“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for,” he said in a statement.

The additional scrutiny on TikTok and other social media platforms has underscored a disturbing trend in US teen screen viewing habits.

Screen Society

TikTok’s audience tilts to the younger side—60 percent of US TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24, and more than a third are under 14.  

US teens spend an average of seven hours and 22 minutes on their phones every day, and tweens—ages 8 to 12—are not far behind, spending four hours and 44 minutes daily, according to a report from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that promotes safe technology and media for children.

The report shows that online video viewing is on the rise. Compared to teens in 2015, more than twice as many young people now watch videos every day, and the average time spent watching has roughly doubled, according to the report. This is surely a cause for parental concern.

Quality Over Quantity

However, report author Michael Robb notes that parents should worry less about the amount of time their teenagers spend online and instead focus on the quality of the content.

"All screen use is not equal, especially at a time when other avenues of connection and learning are shut off," Robb wrote in the report.

He said digital media can be used as a "social safety net" for adolescents to interact with friends and bond with family members they can't see in person.

Economic Matters

The report also found that a child’s socioeconomic status plays a role in their mental health and ability to interact with technology. Children with a lower socioeconomic status have less support from parents when it comes to navigating the online world.

“Our most vulnerable adolescents, specifically those who are Black or come from lower income households, are unable to reliably access and receive support,” said Robb.

Caught in the Crossfire

In a politically charged convergence of geopolitics and entertainment, 100 million American teens and young adult TikTok users are caught in the US vs. China crossfire.

Ondreaz Lopez, a TikTok creator with 18 million followers, posted on TikTok that he would shift his focus to other platforms if TikTok is banned.

"If this app's gone, it was fun as you can see here," Lopez wrote below a montage of some of his previous videos. "The party isn't over though," he added, encouraging his followers to view his other social media accounts.

The TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Melissa Narvaez, CEO and chief digital strategist for MPulse Communications, says the content producers would suffer most from a ban.

“Content producers use TikTok as a means to generate revenue during a time when Generation Z is isolated through the pandemic. TikTok allows them to grow their brand and be creative with a different medium, like artists. Visual content producers need multiple mediums to produce their art,” she told Lifewire in an email.

Creators could lose followers in the shuffle of moving from TikTok to whatever platform replaces it. 

Popular Connections

If the ban holds, millions of users will lose a connection to a new generation of young social media celebrities, such as Charli D’Amelio, Zach King, Ariel Martin, Jannat Rahmani, and Chase Hudson. 

D’Amelio is a TikTok superstar with 82.9 million followers. King (48.6M) ranks second, followed by Martin (34.6M), Rahmani (28.1M), and Hudson (23.8M). 

Charli D’Amelio (charlidamelio) TikTok page

Several of the top TikTok stars are part of Hype House, a collective of content producers who live and film from the same location in Los Angeles. 

As this issue moves forward, there are several moving parts to monitor. Will the administration force a sale or shut down TikTok in the US? Will an increased amount of time on screens prove detrimental to American teens? Will the new young social media megastars have to find a new platform? Stay tuned for the answers.