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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Digital addiction starts early: 30% of K-2 kids use TikTok

Young children are becoming digital addicts, hooked on fast-paced scrolling, swiping and mini-rewards designed into platforms such as TikTok, writes Ted Gioia on Honest Broker. It's like letting kids use slot machines.

Thirty percent of British children "ages 5 through 7 are using TikTok—despite the platform’s policy that you can’t sign up until age 13," he writes. He suspects U.S. numbers would be even higher. Usage is climbing rapidly.

"Almost a quarter of children in this demographic have a smartphone" and "more than three-quarters use a tablet computer."

Social media use rises sharply for 8- to 12-year-olds. "Even before they reach their teens, youngsters are spending more than four hours per day staring into a screen," Gioia writes.

The rise in depression tracks smartphone usage.

Early smartphone access correlates with mental health problems, according to an international report” released last year, write Jon Haidt and Zach Rausch on After Babel. Young people 18 to 24 years old were asked at what age they got a smartphone or tablet with Internet access. They were also asked questions about their mental health. "The younger the age of getting the first smartphone, the worse the mental health" today, especially for young women, the survey found.

Parents should not let their children use social media in elementary or middle school, argues Haidt In his new book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.

However, parents are in an "impossible situation," he says in a Politico interview with Marc Novikoff. "If your child can get to a computer that is connected to the internet, they can open as many Instagram and TikTok accounts as they want. You’ll never know."

We have this bizarre legal situation, in which there are no age barriers whatsoever on the internet, where companies can essentially do whatever they want to children — they can treat them like adults — and Congress has granted them immunity from lawsuits. Our children are going on a conveyor belt, and a lot of them are getting shredded. A lot of them are getting harmed.

Haidt agrees with Gioia that TikTok and other social media platforms are designed to addict the user.

Instagram "contributed the most to girls' declining mental health" from 2012 to 2020, he believes. "However, I’m now coming to see that TikTok is much more powerful than anything else out there. TikTok is able to train behavior the way a dog trainer trains a dog with tiny little rewards for tiny action. As I’m discovering from talking to my students, short-form videos of the kind pioneered by TikTok are the most addictive, the most narcotic. They put you into kind of a mesmerized state, much like a slot machine addict."

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13 hours ago

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May 05

May I recommend a very scary (for parents, teachers and future co-workers) book. "The anxious Generation" by Jonathan Haidt. I am almost finished with it, and he lays out good data and shows just how damaging social media is to children and adolescents.

I am also noticing how video games suck me in, not the best use of my time.

Joanne Jacobs
Joanne Jacobs
May 05
Replying to

Some of it may be screening, but we're seeing these trends in other countries in Europe and elsewhere.

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