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Doctors warn of ‘tic-like syndrome’ plaguing young kids could be linked to TikTok

IF your child spends a lot of time on social media, then it's likely they are on TikTok.

Doctors have now warned of a 'tic-like syndrome' that's plaguing young kids and could be linked to the popular social media platform.

Experts at University College London previously penned a paper that stated that since the Covid pandemic, many paediatricians and child mental health practitioners had noticed an increase in tic symptoms in kids and adolescents already diagnosed with tic disorders.

"Interestingly, clinicians have also seen a marked increase in presentations of sudden and new onset of severe tics and ‘tic-like’ attacks", they said.

It has also been reported in the UK, US and Canada that kids have been presenting with tics since the start of the pandemic.

The experts found that while these instances were strange, the majority were teenage girls who all actively used TikTok.

Doctors claim the patients had been watching videos of influencers who said they had Tourette's syndrome.

Tourette's syndrome is a neurological condition which affects the brain and nervous system, and is characterised by involuntary movements and noises called tics.

Famous people who have the condition include Big Brother winner Pete Bennett.

YouTube star Caspar Lee released a video to his seven million subscribers speaking out about his battle with Tourett’s Syndrome.

Kids normally begin showing signs of Tourette's at between 10 and 11 years old, and the condition continues into adulthood.

In February it was reported that doctors across the UK were witnessing a “worrisome upshift” in the number of children developing tics and other “troublesome” issues, and the problem seems to have persisted.

Movement-disorders fellow Caroline Olveram specifically created a TikTok account to monitor accounts of people with Tourette's.

What are tics?

There are two main types of tics:

Vocal: Grunting, coughing or shouting out words

Physical: Jerking the head, or jumping up and down

Tics can also be either simple (small movements or uttering a single sound) or complex (a series of movements/phrases).

Most people who have been diagnosed with Tourette's have a combination of physical and vocal tics.

They don't pose a serious treat to the person's overall health, although head jerking can be painful.

While people with Tourette's often experience problems such as social isolation, embarrassment and low self-esteem.

What causes Tourette's?

The cause of Tourette's is unknown, but it's thought to be linked to problems with a part of the brain called the basal ganglia.

In people who have Tourette's, the basal ganglia 'misfire', resulting in tics.

For unknown reasons, males are more likely to be affected than females - while Tourette's often runs in families.

Issues related to Tourette's

She studied 3,000 videos found that 19 of the 28 most-followed Tourette influencers on TikTok reported developing new tics as a result of watching other creators’ videos, the Washington Post reported.

When the UCL team in the UK first started digging into the phenomena, the tourettes hashtag on TikTok had 1.25 billion views - now it has 4.8 billion.

While there are several contributing factors to tics, such as anxiety and stress, one expert says this could actually be down to social media addiction.


Martin Preston, Founder and Chief Executive at Delamere said: "The recent surge of teenage girls developing tics is a clear indication that social media addiction can have physical as well as psychological effects on people. 

“The first step to dealing with a social media addiction is to recognise you have it."

He explained that social media platforms cause extreme negative emotions.

Martin said: "It’s natural to get a dopamine kick from likes and comments on your photos. However, constantly refreshing your feed to track likes by the minute or getting real pleasure from online attention may be a cause for concern.

"If you find yourself acting this way every time you post a photo, it’s time to turn that phone off and focus your mind elsewhere."

He added that the recent tics surge is just one example of social media addiction having physical effects on the body.

"As well as this, extensive social media usage can lead to problems such as neck ache, back pain, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome.

"It can also lead to issues with your vision or insomnia. With any kind of addiction, it can cause people to neglect their personal hygiene or diet too", he said.

A TikTok spokesperson said: "The safety and well-being of our community is our priority, and we’re consulting with industry experts to better understand this specific experience."

Elizabeth Hall talks about developing Tourette's as an adult on Channel 4 doc The Mum Who Got Tourette's

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