*The following is excerpted from an online article posted by Cleveland Clinic.
Tics are more common in young boys than in teenage girls. So medical professionals around the world were surprised and stumped when the pandemic began and teen girls started coming to them in droves to report the sudden onset of uncontrollable physical and verbal tics.
The tics mimic those seen in Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes uncontainable movements and vocal sounds. But Tourette’s, which is relatively uncommon, is four times more likely in boys than in girls and typically presents between ages 5 and 7.
Pediatric neurologist Mohammed Aldosari, MD, talks about this disconcerting data, including the role of the social media platform TikTok and what parents can do.
Throughout the pandemic, doctors began seeing more and more teenage girls who were experiencing a sudden appearance of verbal and motor tics. They’d shout the same phrases over and ever, seemingly at random, and display jerking or flapping movements.
As doctors across geographic regions began to communicate with one another, they realized they were all seeing the same thing — around the world.
“Initially, everyone thought they were seeing an isolated phenomenon,” Dr. Aldosari says, “but it turns out that we’re all seeing it — a different age of onset, and disturbingly, an explosive onset. In just a few hours, maybe a day or two, girls who have no history of tics suddenly start to experience a lot of movement and vocalization.”
Globally, doctors were seeing that teens with sudden-onset tics shouted the exact same phrases and experienced the same uncontrolled movements:
- Repetition of seemingly random words or phrases, including “beans,” “woo-hoo” and “flying shark.”
- Repetition of swear words and other obscene phrases.
- Hand/arm movements, including clapping and pointing.
- Hitting or banging body parts, other people or objects.
The similarities in tics — especially given patients’ geographic distance — gave doctors their first clue that social media was at the root of the phenomenon.
t turns out that these tics are specific to a few content creators on TikTok — individuals with Tourette syndrome whose videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times.
Teens experiencing sudden-onset tics do not have Tourette syndrome, Dr. Aldosari says, even if the behavior seems similar. Rather, studies show that they’re experiencing a movement disorder brought on by stress and anxiety — presumably made worse by the pandemic and teens’ increased social media consumption.
“These tics are a complex way for the brain to release overwhelming stress,” Dr. Aldosari explains. “Essentially, their brains express an emotional stressor as a physical disorder.”
Teens who are prone to depression and anxiety are most likely to develop this condition. And teenage girls are more likely to have depression and anxiety than teenage boys, which may explain the rise in tics in teen girls, in particular.
Dr. Aldosari says teenage patients (and their families) are likely to be reassured by the knowledge that this now is a known medical issue and that there is nothing physically wrong with their brains.
“Now we can say that this has been seen before and that it’s the response of your brain when it’s under extreme stress and overwhelmed,” he says. “And then most of these young people would benefit from behavioral therapy.”
Can TikTok-induced tics be prevented?
“When it comes to social media, this should be a wake-up call for us all,” Dr. Aldosari says.
Responsible digital consumption is key. Whether your child has not yet begun using social media or already spends a lot of time on it, have the conversation now about the risks of being online too much — not just tics but everything from self-esteem issues to doomscrolling to sleep problems.
Source: Cleveland Clinic