Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 9 March 2024


Why Some 20-Somethings Are Saying No to TikTok

Many 20-somethings are now trying to break the all-consuming TikTok habit they started during the pandemic.

The young adults I spoke to have been on social media for a decade or more and didn’t question the impact it was having on them until recently. They started noticing that TikTok, in particular, got in the way of sleep, work, household chores and relationships. Some even say it has kept them from chasing their own creative dreams. They are now deleting the app in pursuit of more in-person experiences and tidier homes.

These concerns arise at the same time lawmakers are voicing their own. U.S. representatives have renewed efforts to ban the app or separate it from its Chinese owner, ByteDance.


Leaving the app behind can feel a bit like leaving society—or at least accepting a big gap in pop-culture knowledge.

Keilah Bruce, a 27-year-old accountant in New York, stopped using the app last year, after TikTok’s algorithm began showing her things that matched her private thoughts. “It’s one thing to know about you and another to know you,” she says.

Keilah Bruce says TikTok knew her too well. Photo: Olajawon Monroe

The 20-somethings I interviewed aren’t outliers. They say many of their friends have also deleted the app or scaled back their use in recent months. TikTok’s U.S. average monthly users between the ages of 18 and 24 declined by nearly 9% from 2022 to 2023, according to mobile analytics firm

Whether this is a hiccup or a downturn remains to be seen. TikTok exploded in popularity with teens and young adults during the pandemic, exceeding 1 billion monthly global users by fall 2021. It’s become part of the cultural zeitgeist, with consumer trends and memes spawning on TikTok before migrating to the rest of the world. The number of U.S. adults 24 and under on the app remains vast, totaling 54.4 million each month—about 32% of the app’s 170 million monthly U.S. users.

“TikTok offers several tools, from custom screen-time limits to sleep reminders, that are used by millions of people to help them make intentional decisions about how they spend their time,” a TikTok spokeswoman said, adding that the app regularly reminds people of the features.


The young adults I talked to said they didn’t use those features. Some weren’t aware they existed. And some who set their phones to limit TikTok ended up ignoring the limits.

Productivity killer

Bruce says she neglected her laundry and dishes because TikTok was so engaging. A few times at dinner with a friend, she would talk about a funny TikTok she had seen then spend several minutes searching for it on her phone while her friend sat in silence.


Do you think people are becoming more aware of what social media is taking from them? Join the conversation below.

Bruce deleted TikTok a few times between 2021 and 2023 but couldn’t resist its pull. Last October, she deleted it for good. She had become so accustomed to TikTok’s sounds playing in the background, she initially found post-TikTok silence jarring. 

To fill the void, Bruce is texting and calling relatives and friends more often. She finds the space to hear her own thoughts, and she is making more plans to go out. “I’m at a good place now with my friends, my family, my dishes and my laundry,” Bruce says. “I don’t want to sacrifice those things anymore.”

Gautam Mengi couldn’t watch a movie without scrolling TikTok at the same time. Photo: Gautam Mengi

Gautam Mengi, a 27-year-old film school student in Los Angeles, says he procrastinated with his schoolwork and saw his GPA fall because he was spending so much time on TikTok. 

His TikTok habit became so ingrained that he couldn’t do anything without it. He took out the trash while watching TikTok, but could only carry one bag at a time because his phone was in the other hand. When he cooked, he would stop chopping ingredients to scroll to the next video. 

His roommates “felt disrespected” when he would scroll TikTok during movie nights, causing him to rethink his attachment. He tried to delete it three times. His fourth attempt, this past December, has been successful so far.


Mengi has since brought up his grades and now carries two trash bags at a time.

Samantha Rodriguez, a 29-year-old in Meridian, Idaho, found that her eagerness for TikTok at times put her in danger.

Samantha Rodriguez couldn’t stop watching TikTok at night. Photo: Samantha Rodriguez

“I would scroll TikTok while taking my dogs on a walk, and there were times I’d walk into a mailbox or a tree,” says Rodriguez, who works at an estate-planning firm. 

She also had a habit of scrolling late into the night, which affected her work performance the next day. Her TikTok use became a source of strain with her husband, too. Rodriguez says he often took her phone out of her hand while she was scrolling in bed. 

She deleted the app six months ago. “Cutting the cord was difficult but worth it,” she says, adding that she now wakes up feeling refreshed and is more productive at work.


‘So much I want to experience’

Alissa Chapman felt like she was living through other people on TikTok. Photo: Ira Carmichael

Alissa Chapman’s “Aha!” moment came after she had taken a weeklong, postpandemic TikTok break. When she opened the app again, she found 400 direct messages from friends who were sharing TikToks. “I was, like, ‘We’re all kind of sick,’” the 26-year-old remembers thinking.

Chapman, who consults for a law firm in Atlanta and writes, dances and acts on the side, says she spent hours watching videos of other people doing creative things but realized she was never doing any of them herself. 

“I felt like I was living through those people,” she says. She stopped scrolling TikTok. Now, she only opens the app to search for something specific.


During a quarter-life crisis, Elizabeth Tate worried she was wasting away on TikTok. Photo: Nicole Gomric

Elizabeth Tate, 25, quit TikTok cold turkey in mid-2022. Giving up TikTok made Tate, who works for a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., realize she could give up other social-media apps, too, so she quit Instagram and Facebook in October.

“I realized I have a very finite amount of time on this planet, and there is so much I want to experience and accomplish and do,” Tate says. “I was wasting so much time distracting myself.”

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Write to Julie Jargon at

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