Should TikTok Be Banned? What Kids Think.
A bipartisan bill recently introduced in Congress could ban TikTok, the popular social media app, in the U.S. While adults (who likely don't even use the app) grapple with this major decision, one can’t help but wonder what kids who use the app think. After all, TikTok is the second most popular social media network amongst teens in the U.S. (after YouTube) and the app experienced a whopping180% growth during the pandemic among those aged 15-25.
So you'd think kids would be positively apoplectic at the thought of losing this app, right?
Wrong. At least that’s what I discovered.
So I Asked the Kids
I was curious about what kids thought about a potential TikTok ban, so I asked my middle school students (mostly ages 12-13) how they'd feel if they had to give up the app permanently (and, for those not using it yet, how they'd feel if they never had the chance to download the app). Surprisingly, they were pretty much unanimously in favor of a ban. I know this sounds impossible to believe, so I present you with these direct quotes:
“There are so many young kids on TikTok and the stuff they are watching is just not good for them to see.”
“You get exposed to really dangerous and unhealthy trends on TikTok.”
“It worries me that my younger siblings are on TikTok.
“Do you know about the stupid and dangerous challenges on TikTok? Some kids do them and die!”
“Did you know TikTok can use your videos however they want to?”
“You give away all your information on TikTok.”
Here's my favorite, and again, this a direct quote:
“I have two words for you: age verification.”
When I countered this student by explaining that TikTok does indeed require users to be at least 13 years of age to use the app, the entire class erupted into laughter, wondering how I could be so naïve as to think that this app (or any app, for that matter) makes any effort to enforce this age requirement.
Granted, this exchange happened during Cyber Civics, a weekly digital literacy class where students are being tasked to think critically and thoughtfully about digital media use. But still, what really struck me about our exchange was their overwhelming concern for siblings and friends even younger than themselves. Remember, these are 12- and 13-year old kids clearly disturbed at the thought of 9- and 10-year old’s being exposed to the content they know is on this app.
Join Our Cyberwise Chat
I asked my students this question in preparation for our upcoming Cyberwise Chat—Should TikTok Be Banned? Or Not? On the fence about the answer this question myself, my students' reaction caught me entirely off-guard. After all, if kids themselves are questioning whether or not the time they spend on TikTok (which, in 2022, was an average of 113 minutes per day for children in the U.S.) is worth it, shouldn’t we be listening?
Kids are no match for TikTok’s powerful and mysterious algorithm that serves up content based on their watch history and preferences. An endless feed of short videos entices them into scrolling from one to the next, ages before they are in possession of a fully-functioning prefrontal cortex that might help them consider if this is a wise expenditure of their time or not.
Even though most kids are aware of (or at least we working very hard to teach them) that these design features are meant to capture and hold their attention, they can’t help but be lured in. Who can?
In a way, our discussion sounded like a plea for help. The question is: Will we listen?
Diana Graber is the author of "Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology" and the founder of Cyberwise and Cyber Civics.