If you did not know this already, the TikTok app has dominated the world of social media in the form of short videos that can make you laugh, dance, or even cry. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, TikTok has been the go-to app for when anyone needs distraction because it provides endless videos to scroll through on your “For You Page” as soon as you open the app, and the algorithm-based content really is “for you.” The app has its perks, like hilarious videos you can share with friends and heartfelt ones that bring tears to your eyes, but it also has several downsides. Like any other social media platform, TikTok can trigger mental issues among users, but, most notably, it can also trigger a new pandemic: the outbreak of Tourette’s-like symptoms in tween girls.
A NEW PHENOMENON
More and more tweens have been reporting an onset of tics in the past year, but what does TikTok have to do with it? Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that typically shows in early childhood, around the ages of five to seven, and primarily in boys. Those diagnosed with it have involuntary sounds or movements that persist for at least a year, and it is one of several tic disorders. It is a fairly uncommon condition, as the CDC reports 1 out of 162 children and adolescents, or 0.6 percent, has it.
Those who do have Tourette’s often outgrow their tics by the time they reach early adulthood. However, there are 5.1 billion videos under “#tourettes” on TikTok. Most of these videos document the users’ tics, which range from uncontrollable actions to blurting out random words, phrases, and noises. Some videos show how someone copes with their tics when they go to school, do their makeup, or cook food. Most of these people that post about their tics are teenage girls and adult women. This new phenomenon of Tourette’s is unlike what medical professionals have been treating since they defined the condition. It is a sociogenic illness that shows up as a mimicking process of the brain and stems from stressors of today’s world.
THE ROOT OF TICS
Tics are commonly associated with Tourette’s syndrome, but not all tics are symptoms of Tourette’s. The onset of tics among “TikTok teenagers” is separate from Tourette’s due to their nature–they are mostly the same among those who have them, whereas Tourette’s tics are unique to each individual.
“Medical professionals believe these tics are not the same as classic Tourette’s syndrome,” says Cheryl Brodnax, a licensed professional counselor in Baton Rouge. “Although these types of tics are similar, Tourette’s is considered a neurological disorder that is genetically linked and shows up in younger males.” These tics are also specific to TikTok influencers that raise awareness for Tourette’s syndrome by posting videos of their tics that acquire thousands, if not millions, of views. They are tic-like behaviors instead of true tic disorders.
This does not mean the tics are invalid. Researchers suggest they stem from depression and anxiety, as Tourette’s is linked to such mental illnesses. Brodnax has observed an increase in children requesting treatment for anxiety, “which has the potential to worsen tics.” Girls are also more prone to depression and anxiety. This suggests these spontaneous tics observed lately among older teenage girls are byproducts of outside factors. It is not that TikTok is causing these tics; rather, they are more like coping mechanisms based on learned behavior and involuntary repeating of behavior seen over and over. The blurting, slapping, and clapping are unintentional expressions of deeper disorders within TikTok users.
MENTAL HEALTH CHECK
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has taken an emotional toll on everyone. While it may have caused brief spells of depression for those who quarantined, it also inflicted severe damage to those more susceptible to mental illness. Therefore, these tic spells are like manifestations of internal struggles that are running rampant in today’s youth.
The TikTok tic pandemic-within-a-pandemic highlights how important it is to check on our children’s mental health. But, if your child develops tics, there is no reason to panic. “The most logical advice is to limit screen time, especially the sites that demonstrate tics,” Brodnax says. “Help your teen find ways to reduce mental stress for a while, and try not to overreact. They are already anxious and in need of reassurance. Behavioral therapy and counseling is available and can help your teen feel a sense of normalcy again.”