Starting today, kids in China using the local version of TikTok could find themselves locked out of the viral short video app. Douyin, known as TikTok overseas, is adding a "teenager mode". If parents turn it, their kids won't be able to use the app for more than 40 minutes a day.

It's not alone: Along with Douyin, rivals Kuaishou and Huoshan also rolled out a teenager mode at the request of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which said it will require all short video apps add an anti-addiction system by June.

It shows the contrast in approach between the US and China. In January, TikTok stopped allowing children under the age of 13 to use the app after the company was fined by the US Federal Trade Commission for illegally collecting data on children. China isn't adding an age limit; instead, it's letting parents opt into the teenager mode.

Once the teenager mode is enabled by adding a password, both Douyin and Kuaishou only let kids spend 40 minutes using the apps each day before locking them out. And they won’t be able to use the apps at all between 10pm and 6am.

Young users face other limitations, as well. They can’t send gifts, add or withdraw money from their accounts or start a live stream. 

This precaution could be protecting the companies as much as the kids. In January, a teenage girl in China tipped live streamers a total of US$73,000 on the platform Yinke, resulting in a lawsuit from the girl’s mother.

The “Trend” feed on Kuaishou’s teenager mode is now mostly made of handcraft tutorials and educational videos. (Picture: Kuaishou)

Game addiction among teens has been in the spotlight in China since last year, when authorities repeatedly warned about it. Tencent and NetEase have since added real-name based anti-addiction systems to their games, the former using facial recognition to verify the identity of players.

That level of verification hasn’t come to short video apps yet, but the CAC is requesting companies test a location-based function that can supposedly tell if some users are “left-behind children,” or those who stay in rural areas after their parents move to cities to find work. State media said last year that these children are especially prone to game addiction because they lead “simpler social lives” and are raised by grandparents, who are believed to be less strict.

The apps’ recommended videos feeds also change when the teenager mode is turned on. Feeds once populated with videos of funny stunts and women singing and dancing are now mostly full of educational videos.

Teenager mode has been widely applauded on Chinese social media, with many people agreeing that short video apps have become too addictive. And some say that teens are not the only ones getting hooked.

“Is there an anti-addiction system for seniors?” one user asks in a popular Weibo comment. “I need to get one for my mom.”