MENTAL HEALTH

Is TikTok hurting your teen? Parents can help says counselor

Feb 16, 2022, 3:03 PM

Governments have a long road ahead of them as they try to regulate TikTok, which young generations ...

FILE - In this July 21, 2020 file photo, a man opens the social media app 'TikTok' on his cell phone, in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, File)

(AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Teen girls are increasingly posting risqué videos on TikTok, a social media platform gaining in popularity and pulling ahead of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. According to SocialMediaToday, TikTok is set to surpass 1.5 billion users in 2022.

According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of US adults and 81% of teens use social media.

Clinical mental-health counselor Jenny Howe spoke with KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources host Boyd Matheson about what parents need to do in order to guide teens through the social media maze toward healthier behavior and outcomes.

 

Targeting teens

Howe told Boyd that TikTok is damaging to young minds, specifically the brain’s frontal cortex, which controls higher cognitive functions such as memory, emotions, impulse control, problem-solving, social interaction and motor function.

“There’s a lot of input that social media has on that frontal lobe, especially for teenagers now,” Howe said. “[Social media] is a big way that they communicate; it’s basically all they use to communicate with their friends.”

TikTok is designed especially for teens, Howe said.

“TikTok specifically is curated to really prey on the adolescent mind, and it keeps them hooked,” she said. 

Let your teen make the right choice

“How do we start having a different kind of conversation beyond the natural inclination, which is just grab the phone and lock it up?” Boyd asked.

Howe said instead of taking the phone from your teen, provide them with the information necessary to make the right decision themselves.

“If we can give them information and allow them to maybe frame this app or the other apps that they use with the context of ‘Hey, this thing is kind of controlling you. You’re not controlling it,’ I think it can provide them with the information to make a good decision based off of their own value. Forcing our value on our adolescents never works,” she said.

Bring focus back to what matters

“We know that so many teens today are having really heightened levels of anxiety for a host of things,” Boyd said. “How does TikTok in particular compound that anxiety and that underlying angst in our young people?”

Howe said the app is designed to take attention and focus off the things in life that matter most — and that adds to the anxiety teens feel.

“I have an 8-year-old stepson and he has access to TikTok. There are times when I don’t even feel like he’s present in the room. It’s not because he’s watching horrific videos or there’s anything inappropriate,” Howe said. 

She said TikTok takes his attention away from the things she knows matter to him.

“He put the phone down the other day, and he said, ‘Jenny, isn’t it nice to have me up in this room? Nice to have me here?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, so nice to have you here and present.’ Even he recognized the difference in how much energy he was giving to the things that matter to him rather than the app.”

The takeaway for parents

“What should parents be thinking in terms of how they navigate [social media] with their young people?” Boyd asked.

“My approach is always ‘information is good,'” Howe said.

She urged parents to know the apps that are on their teens’ phones, to navigate through the apps to learn how they work. Once the parent does that, he or she can begin the conversation with their teen about the app.

“I hear parents come in all the time. They’re like, ‘I didn’t even know they had it on their phone,'” she said.

Howe again stressed the importance of providing the teen with the best information to allow them to make the right decision in terms of social media.

“We want to let them weigh those decisions themselves and come to a conclusion and, for better or for worse, let them learn from that conclusion,” Howe said.

Related: 

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app. 

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Is TikTok hurting your teen? Parents can help says counselor