By now we are used to hearing about TikTok and its neverending reel of viral challenges. From the hilariously stupid to the downright dangerous, we can always count on TikTok when it comes to trends and teens.
However, the latest TikTok trend isn’t so much about what’s trending on TikTok as it is about what’s trending because of it.
In an alarming new trend, doctors are reporting an uptick of tics in teenage girls. And social media, specifically TikTok, could be to blame.
Giving a whole new meaning to the “Tik” in “Tik-Tok.”
What makes this even more puzzling is that tics (sudden twitches or noises) in girls are rare. Or, at least, they were.
The WSJ reports:
“Movement-disorder doctors were stumped at first. Girls with tics are rare, and these teens had an unusually high number of them, which had developed suddenly.
After months of studying the patients and consulting with one another, experts at top pediatric hospitals in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. discovered that most of the girls had something in common: TikTok.”
Apparently, the girls have been watching videos of TikTok influencers who say they have Tourette Syndrome.
Tourette Syndrome is a nervous system disorder, according to the NIH. It is characterized by sudden, repetitive, rapid, and unwanted movements, such as blinking, grimacing, and jerking.
It can also cause vocal tics including involuntary humming, clearing the throat, barking, yelling, or sweary outbursts.
Tourette Syndrome typically occurs in boys at a rate of 3-5X more than girls. The CDC estimates that 1 in 162 children have Tourette Syndrome.
It is almost always diagnosed at a very young age.
A quick search on TikTok reveals that there have been over 9.1B views of videos related to #tourettes, #tourettesyndrome, and #tics.
There’s no denying they’re popular.
And researchers believe that watching these videos repeatedly can manifest into real symptoms. I kid you not.
The phenomenon is known as mass sociogenic illness (MSI) or mass psychogenic illness (MPI).
In layman’s terms, it’s called mass hysteria.
It occurs when specific behaviors, emotions, or conditions, with no physical cause, spread like wildfire throughout a group of people.
And this is EXACTLY what is happening in the case of the TikTok tics.
TikTok is not causing Tourette Syndrome. But researchers believe it is behind a functional movement disorder.
A group of Chicago-based doctors is studying the trend and they are calling it a “pandemic within a pandemic.”
The doctors recently compared the “TikTok tics” to typical tic disorders.
What they discovered is that “TikTok tics are distinct from what is typically seen in patients with Tourette Syndrome.” Rather than the more common facial tics, TikTok tics affect arm movements.
Which is consistent with the tics most commonly seen on social media.
What is most concerning about the TikTok tics, however, is this:
The Average tics per minute was 29, and almost all recorded TikTok tics were severe, causing significant disability.
Since March 2020, the trend in TikTok tics has skyrocketed.
Pediatric hospitals are reporting an increase of 20-35% in referrals for tic-like behaviors. And they are almost all girls, between the ages of 12 and 25.
Spokespeople from the Texas Children’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins University Tourette’s Center, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center all told the WSJ that they have seen a dramatic rise in cases. Some as much as 10x their usual.
And so have doctors around the world.
Dr. Kirsten Müller-Vahl, a psychiatrist at the medical school in Hanover, Germany, told the Jerusalem Post that the Tourette’s ward she is responsible for was recently flooded with teen patients.
Almost all girls. And all with the exact same tics.
They mostly shouted “flying shark,” “you’re ugly” or “heil Hitler.”
After doing some research, she discovered that they were mimicking the tics of a popular German YouTuber, Jan Zimmerman.
When she explained this to new patients who were admitted to the clinic, some of them stopped on their own after learning they did not, in fact, have Tourette’s. Others needed psychotherapy.
Caroline Olvera, a movement-disorders fellow at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, also reported a similar case.
She told the WSJ that a number of teen girls would blurt out “beans,” often in a British accent. Including patients that didn’t speak English.
Eventually, she discovered that a top Tourette influencer on TikTok was British and would say the word “beans.”
As for TikTok’s response?
A TikTok spokeswoman told the WSJ that users’ safety is their “priority.” They are “consulting” with “industry experts” to learn more about the issue.
But it’s not all TikTok.
Doctors have found that many of the teens exhibiting tics also suffer from anxiety or depression. Which, let’s face it, has snowballed thanks to Covid.
Obviously, not every teen who binge-watches TikTokers with Tourette Syndrome is going to develop tics.
And people who are bringing genuine awareness to the disorder on social media should be supported and applauded. However, doctors do caution that some Tourette influencers on TikTok “don’t look like Tourette syndrome to them.”
Doctors also recommend that parents who notice tic-like behaviors in their teens should have them take a TikTok break.
Just in case we needed it, this is yet another reason to watch the clock when it comes to TikTok and your teens.