NEWS

The Childhood Trauma Test Is Sparking a Dialogue About Mental Health and Safety Online

person looking concerned at their online childhood trauma test results

Verywell / Laura Porter

Key Takeaways

  • The Childhood Trauma Test is the latest viral mental health trend on TikTok.
  • The company behind the test is collecting a lot of user data—more than the young people taking the test may realize or feel comfortable with.
  • It's sparked discussions around the safety of young people online, as it's becoming more difficult for parents and caregivers to monitor what their children are doing.

The Childhood Trauma Test has been going viral on TikTok in recent weeks, with numerous users posting their results on the video-sharing platform. 

There are 18 questions on the test—not the first to go viral on TikTok—which asks participants about everything from childhood punishments to their memories in general, and the test will then give the factors that it says “negatively affect your well-being”—these might include rejection trauma, abandonment trauma, injustice trauma, or betrayal trauma.

People on TikTok have been sharing their results, expressing surprise at the accuracy. 

What Exactly Is This Trend?

The questionnaire is found on the website of BetterMe, a healthcare platform that’s subscription-based, and users have to enter their email addresses before obtaining their results.

However, concerns have been expressed about the company and its privacy policy. The test collects data including the IP address, location, and hardware ID of the participant's device, which can be used to personally identify them and is shared with third parties like Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

It’s predominantly younger people who are taking this test and sharing their results on social media, and it begs the question as to whether companies like BetterMe are taking advantage of young people with mental health conditions.

Online safety has been a concern of parents and caregivers for almost as long as the internet has existed, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for them to track what their children are doing online, and what information they’re sharing.

"Young people may not know or care about how all that data they are sharing explicitly, and what other data may be getting collected implicitly, will be used. It’s a risk to their privacy and can expose very personal and private data to unethical hackers or people with ill-intent increasing risks to their safety," explains Smriti Joshi, lead psychologist at Wysa.

Why Are Young People More Open Online?

A lot of young people use social media—the minimum age to join most platforms is 13 years old—but even pre-teens will often get around the age requirements.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported in 2018 that 90% of those aged 13 to 17 have used social media, with two-thirds of teenagers having their own mobile devices with access to the internet, and if anything, these numbers will have increased in the years since. 

There are many reasons why these young people might be more open about their mental health online too.

If young people are struggling to make friends in real life, or are bullied, they may turn to social media to find friendships or a sense of community. Or, they might be struggling with their sexuality or gender identity, or with their mental health, and perhaps not feel as if there’s anyone they could reach out to in real life who could relate.

Mark McGuigan

Although it can be really positive for people to be open about their mental health, unfortunately, we still live in a society where some people engage in hurtful behavior online.

— Mark McGuigan

The pandemic has altered social interactions and had a real mental health impact too, particularly for young people who may have missed going to school and seeing friends in person. 

There are pros and cons to social media use for young people. It can provide an outlet for a young person who might be struggling to find solace, particularly if they don’t feel as if they can talk to people in real life, but vulnerable young people can be exploited by corporations or other users. 

“Although it can be really positive for people to be open about their mental health, unfortunately, we still live in a society where some people engage in hurtful behavior online,” says Mark McGuigan, director and lead mental health consultant at Willow Grove Consultants and an HCPC-registered occupational therapist.

“The prevalence of online trolling is really high across all social media platforms, and although we would never actively discourage people to talk about their mental health, we would ask that they are mindful about the forums that they use to share personal information,” he says.

Adolescence and young adulthood are vulnerable periods in a person’s life, and there have been suggestions that social media usage can have a negative effect. However, it’s not all negative.

Social media can be important for creative expression and keeping up with friends and family. In particular, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to have important online friends. Taking into account evidence suggesting higher rates of depression in LGBTQ+ people, it really hits home that social media can be a force for good, and a lifeline for people who may be struggling.

We can look at the advantages and disadvantages of the internet more broadly, too.

"The world wide web has played a significant role in increasing awareness about mental health concerns, providing accessibility to psychoeducational material, assessments, and platforms where people of all age groups could find other people with similar lived experiences of various mental health conditions to feel supported and learn from each other and much more," says Joshi.

"Yet, it comes with its own risks, especially for children and adolescents who are getting more and more dependent on the internet and social media platforms to find more information about the emotional challenges they may be going through and seeking support with mental health concerns which can sometimes make their mental health worse."

The Evolution of Social Media

Young people being open about their mental health is nothing new. A decade previously, it was commonplace for people to discuss mental health on Tumblr. But as sites like Tumblr have declined in popularity, we’ve seen the emergence of TikTok and Snapchat, among other platforms.

Smriti Joshi

It can help your child to know that we all can experience a wide range of feelings that sometimes can indeed be difficult to manage, and that you are there for them.

— Smriti Joshi

While there were still online safety concerns with Tumblr, it was far easier to be anonymous. When a user posts something like their Childhood Trauma Test results on TikTok—despite the data gathering—they might do so from a public account with their name, and include themselves in their video.

Young people may also post video content from their bedrooms or family homes, another potential privacy issue.

As McGuigan explains, “Wider access to social media and video-sharing platforms in recent years has led to a huge increase in the number of young people accessing these platforms and sharing more and more personal content.

"There are huge pressures on young people to be seen following trends to share personal information, pictures, videos, etc. despite feeling uncomfortable in doing so.”

We can also point to the rise of influencer culture, and where this can lead to difficulties with body image or even disordered eating in vulnerable people, and the coercion of young people into sending intimate images—and the potential threats or blackmail that can follow.

What Parents and Caregivers Can Do

For parents and caregivers, the internet might seem like something of a "Wild West," but there are things that parents can do if they have concerns.

“Speak to your kids!” says McGuigan.

“The earlier we start conversations about mental health, the better. By normalizing these discussions from a really young age, you can create an environment where your children feel comfortable talking about their mental health.”

Joshi recommends spending time helping your child feel seen and heard at home, without judgment.

"It can help your child to know that we all can experience a wide range of feelings that sometimes can indeed be difficult to manage, and that you are there for them," she adds.

McGuigan also stresses the importance of being honest about your social media concerns, and recommends being friends with, or following, your children on social media—it allows you to keep an eye on them, while also perhaps making them consider what they post. 

“We would also encourage parents and carers to speak to their children proactively about the risks associated with social media. Let them know that they can speak to you if they feel uncomfortable about something they’ve seen or shared online,” he finishes.

Social media can be great when used in moderation and with a healthy dialogue between parents and carers and their children. Social media might be evolving rapidly, but we can all evolve with it, too.

What This Means For You

The internet can be worrying, particularly when it seems as if it's changing fast and it's difficult to keep up with. While the internet and social media are a big part of life for many of us now, it's important to keep an open dialogue with your children, so they know that they can come to you if they have any concerns about what they're sharing online.

4 Sources
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