TikTok users regularly complain about lost hours on the platform, thanks to the video app’s unparalleled ability to distract, entertain and engage users through its advanced recommendation technology. Its addictive nature has been the subject of numerous psychological studies and parental concerns as TikTok becomes one of the most widely used apps among children. Rather than call back its digital dopamine dispenser, TikTok is today introducing a new set of screen time features designed to give users better control over their TikTok use.
Among the new features are two new controls for monitoring and managing screen time usage, as well as a new digital wellness guide that will be added to the app’s Safety Center.
The guide, titled “How can I reflect on my digital wellbeing with my family and friends?” aims to help users “think more holistically” about how they spend time online, TikTok said.
The new screen time features, meanwhile, complement the screen time controls TikTok has already launched for families, which have been available worldwide for over two years and provide a way for parents to set screen time limits for children. The features also complement the Daily Screen Time Limits tool that TikTok added in February 2020, which is available to all users through the app’s existing Digital Wellbeing section.
Instead, the newly launched in-app tool arriving today will help users control how much time they spend on TikTok. spend in a single session by allowing them to schedule regular breaks in screen time.
The feature aims to address app addiction issues unrelated to total usage, but to lose track of how long you spend on TikTok each time you open the app. In other words, it is a tool to manage screen time per session.
With the new tool, users can ask the app to remind them to take a break after a specified time of their choosing.
By default, it suggests pausing reminders of 10, 20, or 30 minutes, although users can set reminders for a custom time if they want to do longer or shorter sessions before seeing the notification. These default suggested session interruption times are much shorter than the daily screen time limits recommended by the existing tool. The latter prompts users to set a daily screen time limit of 40, 60, 90, or 120 minutes.
TikTok notes that the tool can also be snoozed or disabled at any time, allowing people to use reminders as they see fit. For example, users don’t want to limit screen time during a lazy weekend at home, but want to limit their TikTok time during the work week when trying to go to bed early.
In connection with this addition, TikTok is rolling out a new screen time dashboard that will provide more information about how much time users are spending on the app. It contains summaries of the daily time the user has spent on the app, the number of times they have opened the app, and an overview of daytime and nighttime usage. Users can also choose to receive weekly notifications reminding them to check their dashboard.
As the new screen time tools roll out to global users of all ages, TikTok says it will also introduce new screen time prompts for underage users between the ages of 13 and 17. In the future, if a minor has been on the app for longer than 100 minutes a day, TikTok will remind them of its new screen time limits tool the next time they open the app.
That such a feature should even exist suggests that many parents still haven’t bothered to configure TikTok’s existing parental controls, making the company the digital parent.
Millennial and Gen X users — today’s parents — may have grown up with technology or used it for most of their adult lives, but a surprising number still don’t monitor their children’s screen time and digital usage. devices. A 2021 Kaspersky study found that only half of U.S. parents used parental control apps, and only 44% supervised children’s use of devices. In other markets, the adoption of parental controls may be even lower. For example, a 2020/2021 Ofcom study suggested that around six in ten UK parents were aware of digital parental controls, but only around a third actually used it.
The rollout of new screen time features follows a recent April 2022 survey by the Wall Street Journal into the impact TikTok has on children’s brains. The report cited a widespread scientific study examining how the app’s algorithm activates the brain’s reward centers, including those linked to addiction. Although the survey focused on students and young adults, not children, it found that about 5.9% of TikTok users may have “significantly problematic use.”
Young people have an even harder time managing their screen time use, The WSJ reported, because their brain’s prefrontal cortex — which focuses on impulse control and decision-making — isn’t fully developed until age 25.
Undoubtedly, TikTok’s screen time tools, including those for underage children, are more robust than those on rival platforms like Instagram and YouTube due to the granularity of TikTok’s controls. And they’re way ahead of Snapchat, which has yet to launch its own parental controls. But given the now well-documented health effects of addictive social apps — particularly on children’s brains — regulators are expected to step in soon to exert more control over the market, so it’s not up to app makers to choose which tools. they want to offer and how they should work.