There is so much to unwrap and it’s not even Christmas yet…

I’m sure by now you’ve read the sensational report out of the UK highlighting the cases of a few girls who have started to exhibit severe tics as a result of certain social media use. Specifically TikTok (playfully dubbed TicTok by these young women).

What is going on? Let me break this down.

Young, typically developing girls, are suddenly showing intense Tourette-like behaviours after viewing and using TikTok. These behaviours, sometimes violent, often deeply disruptive, are understandably concerning and distressing for the girls and their caregivers. Let’s not underscore the reality that for these young women this is real and it is scary.

But should you be concerned for your daughter?

Let’s talk.

First off, if you haven’t read the article, you can do so here. I want to highlight a few snippets from the article that I think are the important focus.

1. When you notice a significant change in your child’s behavior, it is important to investigate what is underneath that shift. Developmentally a lot is going on for young girls (learn more about their inner lives and what drives them here). However, while shifts in mood make sense from day to day depending on the stress and experiences they are going through, big changes in personality, emotions, or social relationships are a red flag.

Maybe your daughter isn’t displaying Tics. But has she changed in other ways that you want to assess?

The girls in this article are showing specific tic-like symptoms as one manifestation of the stress and overwhelm that their bodies are trying to cope with before they have the emotional, social, and developmental resources and tools to do so. Our minds, bodies, brains, and hearts do some strange things when overloaded and not all of it makes immediate sense. What does make sense is that sudden changes are concerning, should be assessed by a medial professional, and that when overloaded, we are going to react – physically and mentally – to that overload.

How we react is individualized. Some people get sick, some people have outbursts, some people experience mental health concerns, some people become withdrawn, some people develop tics. The key is to notice the manifestation, and then explore the root cause. Again, big changes are an indicator something isn’t right and that your child could use the support of a professional, in addition to your loving care.

So is social media the cause?

Let’s say you’ve done your due diligence and she’s seen a doctor and/or therapist. And it has been determined that it is indeed stress and overwhelm. Is social media to blame?

The article points out that the catalyst is likely the pandemic: significant stress coupled with heightened emotion can be a catalyst. Heightened emotions can mean fear, terror, worry, but they can also mean intense joy that dysregulates the system just as equally. For example, Paediatrician Dr Sharryn Gardner says, “Some of it is being stressed and isolated. But if you’ve not seen your friends for a year, it can just be that you’re dead excited, not nervous.”

Are your teens overloaded? In a word, YES. 1 in 5 teens are going to experience a significant mental health episode. Our teens overall well-being has decreased significantly during the pandemic.

Your teens are dealing with:

– Not seeing their friends for long periods of time (and thus relying much ore on social media for connection and grounding and that all important social identity development stuff)

– Exhaustion from the emotions that come with the unknown, global illness, trauma, and constant changes and disruptions to their education and routine.

– Coping methods that are increasingly ineffective or that teens don’t connect with and thus feel useless to them.

So what do you do?

Banning social media, which is their go-to social connection outlet – will likely be counter-productive. But getting to know what they are viewing on social media, why they are using certain platforms, what their motivations are and what needs they are trying to fulfil, will help you support them so that they can use the platforms in a safe and healthy way. You can learn more here.

What is the takeaway from todays chat?

That “In the midst of a relentless pandemic, underlying distress can go unnoticed in resilient teens”

As the article states, anxiety that might not be significant to your child on the surface is still significant to their brain at a deeper level. And the brain will do what the brain does to release that stress, and/or alert the person to the fact that there is overload happening. Sometimes that alert button comes in the forms of Tics.

So what is your resilient teen hiding from you? Pay close attention. And learn the signs and symptoms of emerging emotional distress before it gets too far. How?

Mental Health First Aid is your roadmap.

As Dr. Gardner says: No parent should have to fight so hard to get help for their child.

If you feel lost and unsure how to support your child, Mental Health First Aid is your solution.

If your teen/tween isn’t coping then it’s likely because the coping strategies on offer aren’t working for your teens. Because trust me they have tried everything. Better, more effective supports are called for. Mental Health First Aid to the rescue!

I’m so certain of it that I am being very blunt. There is help, hope, and there are strategies at your fingertips. You can learn more here.