TikTok Launches Screen Time Limits for Teens: Too Little, Too Late?

Experts are divided as to whether limits like these will help teens curb their social media habits.

Photo of TikTok App screen time limit


TikTok is implementing screen time limits. But whether it does anything to curb teens' social media habits is debatable.

All accounts belonging to people under 18 will have an automatic 60-minute screen time limit, the social media platform announced via a press release. Users under 18 can still spend more than an hour per day on TikTok, but they'll need to enter a passcode to continue watching once they've hit the 60-minute threshold. TikTok says this move requires teens to "make an active decision to extend that time."

The popular social media app consulted with experts in order to arrive at this decision. "While there's no collectively-endorsed position on the 'right' amount of screen time or even the impact of screen time more broadly, we consulted the current academic research and experts from the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children's Hospital in choosing this limit," the press release reads in part. "If the 60-minute limit is reached, teens will be prompted to enter a passcode in order to continue watching, requiring them to make an active decision to extend that time."

TikTok also cited research showing that being more aware of how much time we spend online can help us make more intentional decisions (hence the passcode requirement).

Screen time has long been a flashpoint for parents, pediatricians, and mental health providers. A recent study from Common Sense Media, a non-profit that reviews and rates media, found that screen time use grew during the pandemic, rising 17% in children ages 8 to 12. Another study of children ages 9 to 11 years old found a link between excessive screen time and suicidal behavior.

The new TikTok rules may be aiming to curb these concerns. But will it? Experts weigh in.

Can TikTok's Screen Time Limits Help Teens Adjust Behavior?

TikTok's screen time limits may sound good on paper. But teens have tons of possibilities for social media use, and the limit doesn't actually cut them off after an hour if they choose to extend it.

"I think this is a game-changer for social media, in a positive way," says David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., ABPP, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Center for Anxiety. "There are always ways around technology limits, but forcing users to interrupt a session after one hour allows them to be more mindful and intentional about prolonged use."

Another expert also saw promise in the new rules but offered a more cautiously optimistic opinion.

"I like that the app will prompt teens to consider setting a daily limit and, similar to Apple's 'screen time' feature, it will send users weekly recaps of their TikTok time," says Don Grant, Ph.D., MA, MFA, DAC, SUDCC IV, a media psychologist and national advisor of healthy device management at Newport Healthcare. "These...offer teens the opportunity to pause and make a conscious decision whether to continue mindlessly scrolling on the app or disengage from it completely. The disruption of potentially negative behavior is a basic safety and protection strategy."

Still, Dr. Grant notes there are plenty of ways around the limit, and he's not talking about the prompted passcode at 60 minutes.

Don Grant, Media Psychologist

A legitimate age verification protocol—preferably managed by a verified parent via the type of two-step identity authentication protocols used by many credit card companies—would be tremendously important to implement.

— Don Grant, Media Psychologist

"Many teens lie about their age to gain access to social media platforms in general, and when Apple launched their screen time dashboard in August of 2018, other social sites like YouTube and Reddit were immediately flooded with tricks of how to jailbreak parental controls," Dr. Grant says. "Therefore, I believe that a legitimate age verification protocol—preferably managed by a verified parent via the type of two-step identity authentication protocols used by many credit card companies—would be tremendously important to implement as well."

But Jean-Paul Schmetz, the CEO of digital privacy company Ghostery, doesn't think the new limits will make much of an impact.

"In practice, TikTok's new time limits do not do enough to curtail the harmful impacts of social media," Schmetz says. "It will be easy for teens to simply enter their passcode and continue scrolling, as well as for those under 13, unless parents are diligent about monitoring screen time and keeping passcodes private."

How to Work With Your Kids on Screen Time

Though experts offer different opinions on whether the new limits could be helpful in promoting more mindful screen time habits, they all agree parents play a critical role.

"It's important for parents and educators to remember that screen limits are not a replacement for teaching children and teens to employ safe practices when using social media," Dr. Rosmarin says. "Electronic devices are powerful tools, and automatic safeguards are only one part of risk management."

Educate yourself

Parents of teens today likely remember a time before Facebook, and may not even be on TikTok. Learning more about the platform can help parents feel informed and familiar with what their teens are using.

"Many parents are 'digital immigrants' [people brought up before mainstream use of technology], and this education can often feel overwhelming, bewildering, or even too difficult to try and understand," says Dr. Grant.

Still, Dr. Grant says it's important. Organizations like Common Sense Media have reviews and guides that can help parents navigate the ever-changing digital world.

Have a pre-download talk

Before giving a child access to a social platform, Dr. Grant stresses it's important to discuss that using an app is a privilege. This conversation is also an opportunity to discuss expectations.

"Agree upon any consequences which could result from a deviation from expectations," he says. "Many kids will look for ways around limits and parental controls you install, but the important thing is that you send a clear message that you are taking an interest, monitoring, and are aware, and also why this is so important. They need to understand that online behaviors can have consequences too—for example, bullying behavior—and that things posted last forever, even when they think they've deleted them."

In not-so-breaking news, teenagers like to roll their eyes, and they may do so during this talk.

"One strategy I suggest before risking the inevitable eye roll, which can follow us trying to tell our kids something, is to first ask them what they think about social media," Dr. Grant says. "Invite them into a conversation about it. Remain curious and gentle, listen, and learn. Even if it takes a couple of tries, they may take joy in teaching you something, and in doing so, at some point reveal their authentic thoughts, intentions, and beliefs."

Set house rules

Dr. Rosmarin suggests having designated screen-free times to build in breaks from platforms and engage as a family, such as during dinner or at bedtime.

"Like all house rules, these are ongoing conversations that require regular check-ins to keep everyone on the same page," Dr. Rosmarin says. "The best strategy is simply to communicate with one another about expectations up front and continue to communicate over time about how things are going over time."

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internet Matters. Intentional Use: How agency supports young people's wellbeing in a digital world. March 2022.

  2. Common Sense Media. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens. 2021.

  3. Chu J, Ganson KT, Baker FC, et al. Screen time and suicidal behaviors among U.S. children 9–11 years old: A prospective cohort study. Preventive Medicine. 2023

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