With TikTok again facing the possibility of a total ban in the U.S., China-based owner ByteDance says it will implement a default 60-minute per-day usage limit on the app for teens.
When the 60-minute limit is reached, teens under 18 will have to enter a passcode to keep watching, forcing them to make “an active decision” to do so, TikTok’s head of trust and safety, Cormac Keenan, said in a blog post Wednesday.
For those under age 13, a parent or guardian will have to set or enter an existing passcode to allow another 30 minutes of user time once the first hour is up.
Teens can opt out of the 60-minute default setting. TikTok said it will prompt those users to set their own daily screen time limits if they spend more than 100 minutes per day on the app.
The limits will be put in place in “coming weeks,” according to the company.
"While there’s no collectively endorsed position on how much screen time is ‘too much’, or even the impact of screen time more broadly, we recognize that teens typically require extra support as they start to explore the online world independently," TikTok said in a statement.
In its first month of testing, prompting users to set daily screen-time limits increased use of screen-time management tools by 234%, according to TikTok.
Research has shown that social media is contributing to a mental health crisis among young people, and TikTok has become the most-used app among U.S. teens. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found 67% of teens reporting that they use TikTok, and 16% saying they use it “constantly.”
TikTok said it consulted with the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital to decide on the time limit.
On Wednesday, concerns about TikTok’s impact on teens — as well as concerns about the app’s possible use as an intelligence-gathering tool by ByteDance — were cited as the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to advance a bill that would open the way for the President to ban the app in the U.S.
TikTok said it will also update Family Pairing — described by nonprofit privacy group ConnectSafely in the announcement as an opportunity for parents and children to “collaborate on developing healthy online habits” — and allow parents to filter words and hashtags, set screen-time limits and mute TikTok notifications. The updated Family Pairing feature includes a screen time dashboard showing number of times the app has been opened and time spent on it.
The abilities to set time limits, mute notifications even without Family Pairing and set sleep reminders will also be rolled out for all users soon, TikTok said.
The Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, already limits use by Chinese children under 14 to 40 minutes per day, and blocks their use from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Other social platforms, including Snapchat and Instagram, have also instituted features that nudge teens to take breaks and set boundaries, and enable parental controls. But TikTok’s making time limits the default rather than an opt-in — even though teens can opt out of the default — is considered a more aggressive approach to begin addressing overuse of a social app.
My teenagers are 25 now but limiting behavior to just an hour seems ineffective in many situations I can recollect.