China moves to limit social media, gaming as teens get more addicted and mental health is impacted

Teens spent significantly more time on their phones and online gaming due to the pandemic

China has been cracking down on social media and gaming usage among kids, as teens in other countries spend more time online.

Douyin, an app popularly known as the "Chinese TikTok," has faced criticism for presenting distressful material to a large audience of minors. In April of 2021, however, the video-sharing app added a "youth mode" feature to restrict youth access to the app and its content, according to Nikkei Asia.

"Youth mode" allows users under 18 to watch videos for no more than 40 minutes at a time, and young users cannot access the app between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the outlet reported.

The content that young users watch on the app is also screened by Douyin content reviewers.

More recently, in late August, China implemented new rules for young gamers in the country. Online game providers can now only allow young users to play games for an hour between 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and on official holidays, state-run media outlet Xinhua News reported.

Chinese authorities have reportedly argued that "youth mode" features do not go far enough and have been cracking down on companies to make it more difficult for young users to bypass these time-limit features, according to the South China Morning Post.


Mobile users in China ranked No. 1 for time spent on mobile apps in the first quarter of 2021, followed by India, Brazil and the United States, data from app analytics website App Annie shows.

U.S. teens spent significantly more time on their phones and online gaming when the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to stay home from school – in some cases for an entire year or more – and away from friends, as reported earlier this year. 


In addition to reliance on social media and gaming, reports show that teens may be suffering from mental health issues as a result of what they see on social apps.

For example, researchers tapped by Facebook, which owns Instagram, to examine the app's impact on young users' mental health over the past three years found that 32% of teen girls who "felt bad about their bodies" said Instagram made the issue worse, according to a Monday report from The Wall Street Journal.

Apple iPhone XR showing Instagram application on mobile. (iStock)

Karina Newton, Instagram's head of public policy, said in a Tuesday blog post that it stands by the research, which demonstrates the company's "commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work" Instagram does "to help those experiencing these issues."

About four in 10 Americans use Instagram compared to about seven in 10 Americans who use Facebook, according to a Pew Research survey published in April. Among young adult users between the ages of 18 and 29, the majority (81%) said they use Instagram. 


More than 40% of the app's users are under 22 years old, and about 22 million teens use the app every day, WSJ reported, citing Facebook's documents. A 2018 Pew Research survey that Newton cited in her Tuesday blog post found that 81% of teens ages 13 to 17 found that social media in general makes them feel more connected while 26% said it makes them feel insecure. 

Also on Tuesday, ByteDance, a short-form video app owned by Chinese parent company TikTok, launched a set of new "well-being resources" aimed at combatting self-esteem issues, suicidal thoughts and other distressing material that may cause harm to young users who use the app. 


"We care deeply about our community, and we always look for new ways in which we can nurture their well-being. That's why we're taking additional steps to make it easier for people to find resources when they need them on TikTok," Tara Wadhwa, director of public policy for the company's U.S. branch, said in a Tuesday blog post.

TikTok said in 2020 that it has about 100 million monthly active American users, though that number has likely grown significantly. More than 30% — or 30 million — of those users were under the age of 19, according to a September 2020 tweet from TikTok's global industry strategist.