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20th Oct 2021

Teen girls are developing ‘tics’ and doctors say it could be from TikTok

Katy Brennan

This is bizzare.

Doctors around the world are reporting a surge in teenage girls developing tics which they believe could be related to anxiety, depression, and TikTok.

Wall Street Journal reported that the rise began around the start of the pandemic and has both alarmed and puzzled doctors.

Before the pandemic, medical centres would typically see one of two cases a month, but some are now seeing between 10 or 20 cases a month.

A number of medical journal articles found that the teenagers had one thing in common – they were continuously watching videos of people with Tourette Syndrome on TikTok.

Tourette syndrome is a condition of the nervous system that causes people to have tics. These tics can be sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that are uncontrollable and repetitive.

While people with Tourette syndrome usually have their own unique ticks, Caroline Olvera, a movement-disorders fellow at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said she noticed many patients coming in with similar ticks.

She told Wall Street Journal that several of her patients were repeating the word “beans” with a British accent – even patients who didn’t speak English. After a while, she learned that they were mimicking a popular British TikToker who would blurt out the word “beans” repeatedly.

Doctors say that what is occurring is not actually Tourette’s, but a functional movement disorder. They also noted  that many of the teens who developed tics also suffered from anxiety or depression.

According to Mariam Hull, a child neurologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, it’s unlikely to develop a tic by just watching one video. However, TikTok’s algorithm means kids are seeing similar videos over and over.

“Some kids have pulled out their phones and showed me their TikTok, and it’s full of these Tourette cooking and alphabet challenges,” Hull said.

While the condition is treatable, it is still worrying. Doctors are suggesting that parents monitor the type of videos their children are watching and ensure they are taking breaks from social media regularly.

They are also encouraging parents to seek out specialists if a child begins to exhibit tics.