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Is TikTok Bad for College Students?

TikTok for college students: friend or foe?

Shutterstock / kovop

TikTok. The app that took the world by storm in 2018 and still is one of, if not the biggest social media giant in 2023. Why though? Well, all the newest trends are easily found within the app. And its user-friendly design allows for flawless searching, scrolling, and video recording. The possibilities are endless and give unlimited usability and entertainment, which is all good and dandy for TikTok, but what about its mostly college student audience? Is TikTok bad for them?

As of September 2023, the greatest average age range of TikTok users is 18-24. College students sit tightly into this scope as one of the highest users of the app. Go figure that newfound freedom, plenty of downtime, and living on your own would all lead to this conclusion. Not to mention, TikTok was probably also previously a part of their lives before college since it only came out six years ago.

So college students hold the most users, and they’re comfortable with TikTok, cool. But that doesn’t mean it’s affecting their lives positively. In a sample survey of 685 college students from Grand Valley State University, about 53% agreed that TikTok is bad for them. This school has over 20,000 students, and with the data, we can concur that at least half of them think it’s bad. That’s a lot!

Tiktok makes college students happy and gives a source of comfort during tough times.
TikTok is the most downloaded app in 40 countries. Credit: Shutterstock /

TikTok and the College Student Relationship

Like any relationship, it’s going to be uneven.

College students seek relief, comfort, and distraction from school, and one easy way to find that is to open TikTok. If a student just treats it as a quick depart from reality, then that’s totally fine. Or maybe they’ll upload a quick video to fire up their confidence or creativity. It’s an amazing app for inspiration, fun, and learning as well.

Problems arise when a student easily gets sucked into the flow of the for you page (FYP).

College student distracted using TikTok while doing homework showing a bad habit
TikTok is blamed for worsening kids attention spans. Credit: Shutterstock /

TikTok has the uncanny ability to feed anyone their own personalized FYP, including college students. All of a sudden, that quick diversion turns into 30 minutes or more of valuable time wasted on the app. It gets even worse when diving into the comments on some videos. Depending on a student’s tastes, they may see controversial videos that spark problems for them in the real world.

Meanwhile, TikTok reaps of ad revenue that is also personalized for every specific user. The relationship is unhealthy if the user lets it be.

Why Using the app harms College Students

College students using TikTok in a classroom
2/3rds of teens say that they’ve used TikTok for help with school. Credit: Shutterstock / Gorodenkoff

The main issue is the addictive nature of the app.

Continuously wanting to scroll and see more content starts a cycle of distraction. For college students in a lecture hall, at the gym, in the library, it’s very easy to want to open TikTok and start scrolling. That eagerness to do something else more enjoyable than school could be linked to decreased mental health and anxiety.

When students do distract themselves, they get behind on their work. I’m also guilty of this and have found myself scrolling for way too long while doing homework before. Basically another way to help procrastination, which is connected to negative functioning and mental health risks.

Couple that with the occasional disturbing video and the fact that TikTok is filled with videos that affect someone’s view of themselves, and it’s no wonder why students believe it’s bad for them. Like before, however, there are smart ways to go about using the app safely.

College student addicted to TikTok
82% of college students say that they use TikTok. Credit: Shutterstock / Melnikov Dmitriy

How to aid app Usage

Screen time is a huge topic nowadays, and luckily most college students’ smartphones now allow us to set our own timers on certain apps. If you feel like you spend too much time on TikTok, have a look at your screen time. Over 100 minutes? If so, even TikTok recommends setting a limit, as it helps with our intentional decision-making skills.

Another easy way to solve this problem is deleting TikTok all together. That way, college students don’t worry about hopping onto it all the time. A break from TikTok is like any break from anything bad for you, a tolerance break, if you will. Just like quitting vaping, smoking, or drinking, one will see the world in a better light without being balled up in bed watching TikTok for hours in a day. They’ll find that their new free time is much better spent elsewhere and improves their health.

One more way to combat college student’s overuse of TikTok doesn’t involve the app. Instead, someone needs to change something about their routine. Because someone deleting the app is great, but if nothing changes about their life, then they’ll go back to the app and fall down the rabbit hole again. They need to take up new hobbies to fill the time that TikTok used to do for them, so being conscious enough to try new things is important.

Teens pursuing creativity
A dance video is the most popular kind of content on TikTok. Credit: Shutterstock / Nattakorn_Maneerat

Bottom Line

It varies, but in reality, TikTok is bad for college students.

In a time of their life where they need to grow, explore, and find themselves, TikTok doesn’t fit anywhere in that equation. However, if TikTok is used to pursue their creative endeavors, just as a little pick-me-up, or has a limit, then there shouldn’t be an issue.

For those who agree that it is bad for them, it’s time to change some things up to break the bad habit and put their mental health first. It’s a good chance that leaving the app in the past will not only help them mentally, but also their performance in the classroom. So next time you witness yourself on TikTok for too long, do something about it!

Make that change, and wish for the good old days of Vine to come back.

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Written By

Caleb Maser is a Grand Valley State University Student studying writing and photography. Besides school, he hangs out with friends, plays various sports and video games for fun, serves at Stans Tacos, and continues to work on his first novel and take photographs.

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