Deep down the rabbit hole that is mental health, right at the bottom of the pit, lies…TIKTOK!
Yup, TikTok has become the latest space where tweens and teens come to vent, joke, taunt and now SELF-DIAGNOSE in relation to their mental health challenges.
Of course, platforms like TikTok are not just about cute dance moves and trending Kylie jeans, it has also brought our screenagers greater awareness and the confidence to speak out about previously “shameful” issues like ADD, OCD, anxiety and depression. In some cases, it has even fostered community around some of these issues. But on the flip side of the coin, it has also brought a proliferation of misinformation and all too hasty self-diagnoses.
Many of our kids who are in the midst of normal growing pains and teen struggles, find one or two symptoms, hook onto them and believe they have full blown disorders. This is called the ‘horoscope effect’. And Tiktok is full of horoscope moments that ask our kids: “Do you feel restless? Do you find it hard to pay attention and often interrupt others while they’re talking? Well, then you might have ADHD! Or maybe a video comments: “Are you a perfectionist…do you avoid eye contact? Then you might have an anxiety disorder.
Of course, what our kids don’t always realise is that these symptoms, like character descriptions in a horoscope, which are so generalised that almost everyone identifies with one or two aspects.
Some teens (and adults) want to believe they have disorders because it becomes a comfortable way to leverage poor performance at school, gain sympathy and/or avoid challenging situations.
Others really aren’t coping at all, and places like TikTok offer a sense of ‘I am not alone in this’. What we have to caution against is the quick labelling and happy hanging onto hooks that don’t really fit the bill: just because you pee a lot does not mean you have diabetes. Equally, if you have two down days in row, you are not necessarily depressed.
SO WHAT SHOULD PARENTS DO?
- Affirm your kids for coming to YOU with their “diagnosis” (even if its bogus or you don’t agree with the source)
Ultimately, if your child does come to you and say ‘I have ADD” or ‘I think I have an anxiety disorder, we need to affirm them for showing up with their concern. Remember, the goal is to stay connected and if you dismiss them, you risk them going underground with real hurt and pain. Remember, if your child does come to you with an “internet diagnosis”:
- They are trying to tell you something.
- Don’t dismiss their underlying attempt at relaying how hard life feels in that moment.
- Be careful not dismiss them just because you don’t approve of their medical source.
BUT… and it’s a big but…….help them to know that getting an official diagnosis, from a real-life professional, is the only way to really get the long-term help they need.
2. Upskill our kids to be able to identify inaccurate information online and to recognise when social media makes them feel worse not better
We need to help our kids to realise that:
- TikTok (or Instagram or Snapchat or YouTube or any other soon to be created social media platform of the future) is not therapy.
- Sometimes too many reels pertaining to mental health can make us feel worse, not better!
- It is a skill to access accurate information online.
The Klikd App contains engaging modules on mental health, fake news, scams and digital wellbeing (and so many more)- critical 21st century life skills which empower our kids to be able to better discern bogus information from verifiable and trustworthy sources, and to recognise when social media is adversely affecting their mental wellbeing, and the tools to deal with tricky online situations. It also comes with all the tools parents need to have some of these often difficult conversations. Sign up to the Klikd App today.
3. Help your kids to curate their social media feeds to bring up more positive content
The algorithms controlling what our kids see in TikTok and Instagram ensure that the more you hover over, comment on, like or share certain types of content, the more of this type of content will show up in your feed. Our kids can reset their feed to get better input just by hovering over some fun, nonsense posts for a while. This shakes up the algorithm. TikTok are even working on a function that allows teens to choose words or hashtags associated with content they don’t want on their feeds. See our previous posts on how to curate a more positive feed on Instagram and on TikTok.
So, below, some great ways to help teens recognise the dangers of self-diagnosis care of Dr Google, TikTok or even Instagram ‘recognition’.
4. Stay connected – talk, talk and talk some more !
Here great ways to help teens recognise the dangers of self-diagnosis care of Dr Google, TikTok or even Instagram ‘recognition’.
- What do you think the biggest issues are for teens’ mental health right now? (depression, anxiety, ADD, multiple personality disorder? (make a bit light of the last one as it is a very complex and unlikely diagnosis but many teens joke about someone they know having it)
- What platforms do you think most teens are using to get medical input about their mental health online?
- Do you think some of these platforms are convincing teens that they have mental health issues that they may not actually have?
- Have you ever looked up some symptoms online that were worrying you?
- Is there material on your ‘for you page’ about mental health issues in teens? Does this intrigue you? What about it fascinates you? (eg’s might be watching bulimic girls share their experiences, restrictive dieters talk about how they hid it from their parents, gender fluid kids talking about how they came out to the world, anxiety support pages etc).
- Do you know if we hover on a reel on Insta or clip on Tiktok for more than 1/10 of a second, it alters the algorithm dramatically and you will get fed more and more of the same? Have you seen that happen on your pages?So if you watch someone speak about her eating disorder, even just cause it’s fascinating, you will be fed more of that! Pretty soon our reels become loaded with mental health stuff and we can start to feel awful. Do you know how to reset your algorithm?
- Help teens to understand the ‘horoscope effect’ – Explain that humans like to belong and identify so when we have have ‘general’ symptoms that almost everyone can identify with, then we think wow this is accurate, this is me… when actually the characteristics or symptoms they describe could apply to almost anyone! We all feel anxious sometimes, we all have bad days or days when concentrating is hard, it doesn’t mean we have a disorder
- What do you think counts as reliable source online to get medical/psychological input. (Explain that the best ones end in .org, .gov. or .edu as these depend on real doctors for input.
- Explain that you will never dismiss your teen if they feel they resonate with a mental disorder they ‘discover’ online, but that ultimately, you will always want to verify it with a professional that exists in the real world.
Sarah and Pam