In one of the most aggressive moves yet by a social media company to prevent teens from endlessly scrolling, TikTok announced on Wednesday that every user under 18 will soon have their accounts default to a one-hour daily screen time limit.
Users of TikTok who are teenagers will be able to disable this brand-new default setting, which will begin to appear in the coming weeks. However, the change in the feature could help younger users’ digital well-being by requiring them to opt out of stricter screen time limits rather than meeting the higher threshold of opting in.
Users will be prompted to enter a passcode if the 60-minute limit is exceeded, requiring them to actively choose to extend their time spent swiping through videos on the app.
The move comes after social media platforms like TikTok and others have been scrutinized for years for how they affect young users, including the possibility that they can lead teens down harmful rabbit holes. Additionally, Washington is exerting more and more pressure on TikTok due to security concerns raised by the company’s ties to China through its parent company, Bytedance. There has also been renewed talk of the US imposing a ban on the short-form video app.
According to Cormac Keenan, TikTok’s head of trust and safety, the company decided on the time limits for teen users after consulting with experts from the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“We recognize that teens typically require additional support as they start to explore the online world independently,” Keenan wrote in a blog post. “While there’s no collectively-endorsed position on how much screen time is ‘too much,’ or even the impact of screen time more generally, we recognize that teens typically require extra support.”
Keenan went on to say that a teen who disables this new default limit and spends more than 100 minutes a day on TikTok will be prompted to set a daily screen time limit for themselves. In our most memorable month of testing, this approach expanded the utilization of our screen time usage apparatuses by 234%,” Keenan composed.
Keenan also talked about some new features for the Family Pairing feature of the app, which lets parents or other caregivers link their teens’ TikTok accounts and set controls. Parents will be able to mute TikTok notifications on a schedule of their choosing, set a daily screen time limit for their teen, and filter videos that contain words or hashtags they do not want in their child’s feed.
Similar parental controls and features have been added to Instagram and Snapchat, two other platforms that encourage teens to set limits and take breaks.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children spend seven hours per day on entertainment media, including social media apps. Beyond mental health, concerns about social media and media consumption extend beyond that. The group suggests that families devise a media strategy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states on its page about media and children, “Today, children are exposed to messages from social media influencers, hidden ads in video games, data collection across many platforms, virtual reality encounters with strangers in games, and targeted social media advertisements that are intended to make children take action.” It is not surprising that parents visit pediatricians with so many inquiries.
Additionally, TikTok is releasing additional parental controls, one of which allows parents to filter videos containing words or hashtags that they do not wish to appear in their teens’ feeds. They will also be able to set individual screen time limits for their teens and mute TikTok notifications at a specific time. Additionally, everyone on TikTok will be able to schedule a time to mute notifications and set individual screen time limits. In the past, users of TikTok could only limit their daily screen time to 40, 60, 90, or 120 minutes.