Teen girls getting tics, disorders from watching TikTok
Starting in early 2020, doctors noticed an abnormally high number of girls suffering from tics, many using the same words despite being in different locations around the world
March 29, 2022 8:21am
Updated: March 29, 2022 6:25pm
Research continues on the reported spike in Tourette-like verbal and motor tics in teenaged girls, which appears to be related to videos they watch on video site TikTok, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Starting in early 2020, doctors noticed an abnormally high number of girls suffering from tics, many using the same words despite being in different locations around the world.
The first suspect was Tourette syndrome, a nervous-system disorder characterized by involuntary movements or sounds. However, it is most common in young boys. Girls with Tourette syndrome are rare.
What doctors discovered is that the teen girls with tics had been watching TikTok videos of people who said they had Tourette syndrome. Videos containing the hashtag #tourettes have 5.6 billion view total, up from just 1.25 billion in January 2021.
Healthcare professionals have started diagnosing girls with these tics with “functional neurological disorders,” where certain involuntary sounds and abnormal body movements are not tied to an underlying disease. They believed the “functional tics” were signs of other underlying mental health issues.
A paper published earlier this month in Australia’s Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health found just that - underlying undiagnosed or untreated psychiatric disorders, self-harm and school absenteeism were common in teens with functional tics.
Most of these teen girls were able to recover from their tics with therapy and medication. New ones continue to emerge but at lower rates, likely as pediatricians learn how to treat them without referring them to mental health professionals.
The COVID-19 pandemic and school lockdowns have taken a particularly hard toll on adolescent girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WSJ reported adolescent boys seemed to have fared better because online video games provided a social outlet, while girls spent even more time on social media.
TikTok says it has consulted with experts “who have cautioned that correlation does not mean causation” when it comes to tics and videos on the platform. It defended #tourettes videos as a way for them to express themselves and find community.
Aside from Tourette videos and tics, doctors have also said TikTok videos about extreme dieting have been a factor in girls’ eating disorders.