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TikTok announced Wednesday that every user under 18 will soon have their accounts default to a one-hour daily screen time limit, in one of the most aggressive moves yet by a social media company to prevent teens from endlessly scrolling.
Teenage TikTok users will be able to turn off this new default setting, which will roll out in the coming weeks. But the feature change could bolster the digital well-being of younger users by requiring them to opt out of stricter screen time limits rather than clearing the higher bar of opting in to them.
If the 60-minute limit is reached, users will be prompted to enter a passcode — requiring them to make an active decision to extend their time spent swiping through videos on the app.
The move comes after TikTok and other social media platforms have faced years of scrutiny over their impact on young users, including their potential to lead teens down harmful rabbit holes. TikTok is also facing mounting pressure from Washington over security concerns from its ties to China through parent company Bytedance, including renewed discussion of a possible US ban of the short-form video app.
Cormac Keenan, TikTok’s head of trust and safety, said the company consulted researchers and experts from the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital when deciding the time limits to set for teen users.
“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,” Keenan wrote in a blog post.
Keenan added that if a teen decides to turn off this new default limit and spends more than 100 minutes on TikTok a day, they will be prompted to set a daily screen time limit for themselves. “In our first month of testing, this approach increased the use of our screen time management tools by 234%,” Keenan wrote.
Keenan also announced some updates to the app’s Family Pairing feature, which allows a parent or caregiver to link their TikTok account to their teen’s and set controls. Parents will be able to filter videos with words or hashtags they don’t want to appear in their teen’s feed, set a custom daily screen time limit for their teen, and set a custom schedule to mute TikTok notifications sent to their teen.
Other platforms including Instagram and Snapchat have similarly rolled out additional parental controls and features that encourage teens to take a break and set boundaries.