TikTok Challenges School Safety

TikTok challenges have been sweeping through school buildings this year, along with their collateral damage. The challenges for the first few months of the school year have involved vandalism and assault.

  • What exactly is going on with these TikTok challenges and where they are happening?
  • How can schools effectively address students and parents to reduce participation?
  • What can schools do to guide proper social media usage for students?
  • How can schools be ready for the next safety challenge?

There is a calendar of monthly TikTok “challenges” for schools and it is something that parents and educators need to be aware of.  New challenges for each month of the school year present ongoing safety concerns that need to be addressed by school staff and administrators.  Student participation in these challenges has been nationwide.

While it is a reality that we all have to face, our children are online. They are parts of social media platforms, and while these can have benefits like education and connection, there are some pretty big negatives that parents need to keep on top of. TikTok is one of the most popular apps right now for youth, and adults, but there always seem to be trends and challenges that become a big hit, and oftentimes a big problem for school safety.  Here is a look at the challenges as outlined across TikTok that parents and school administrators need to be aware of, and prepare for.

Now could be the perfect time to talk to children about these challenges and the consequences that may come of them.  While some of the challenges appear to be typical, prank-type behavior, some of them are more serious and more than one includes sexual assault and/or harassment. 

September 2021 - The Devious Licks Challenge

This TikTok challenge involves students posting videos that show them stealing, damaging, or showing off items taken from school. As for how the trend got its name, according to Urban Dictionary, a "lick" is a "successful type of theft which results in an acceptable, impressive and rewarding payday for the protagonist."  Whether it's stolen urinals, smashed floor tiles, or missing soap dispensers, the destruction is apparent in school bathrooms across the United States.

October 2021 - Slap A Teacher Challenge

The "slap your teacher" challenge was the October trend that has resulted in some students facing charges and has schools and TikTok speaking out.  TikTok tweeted the challenge was an insult to teachers everywhere and any related content posted to its platform was against its community guidelines and would be removed immediately.  Schools across the nation notified teachers, parents, and students of the possible consequences after the challenge began to trend on social media and multiple students made headlines for assaulting teachers.

November 2021 - Kiss Your Friend's Girlfriend Challenge

In this challenge, students are asked to kiss the girlfriend of their best friend. While one is tasked to do that, one is also required to record a video reaction and upload the video to TikTok.  This challenge could be ripe with retaliatory violence and could also result in sexual harassment issues in schools.  

December 2021 - Deck the Halls and Show Your B@%ls (show your private parts)

This challenge is particularly disturbing and will most certainly result in some challenging events across the nation.  The level of sexual deviance is bound to result in some terrible outcomes and injuries.

January 2022 - Jab a Breast Challenge

The “jab a breast” challenge is all about sexual assault – encouraging inappropriate sexual touching.

February 2022 - Mess Up School Signs Challenge

Another TikTok challenge that inspires destruction in schools.

March: Make a Mess in the Courtyard or Cafeteria Challenge

Another TikTok challenge that inspires destruction in schools.

April 2021 - Grab Some Eggz Challenge 

The meaning behind the listed challenge is being decoded in different ways as some suggest it is similar to the devious lick challenge that involved people stealing toilet paper and soap from school bathrooms.  While many have assumed that Grab Some Eggz is similar to the devious lick challenge while slamming it for encouraging schoolgoers to steal, there is also another theory that makes the trend sound even more alarming.  Some social media users who have shared the list of the challenges planned have noted that this trend could also mean “Grab privates of boys.”  Twitter is slamming social media users for sharing this list as it openly talks about sexual harassment.

May 2021 - Ditch Day Challenge

While the actual "ditch day" is not clear, it's important for parents and administrators to know that May might bring about an increase in absences and further bad behavior as children skip out of school.

June 2021 - Flip Off in the Front Office Challenge

While seemingly benign in nature, it's important for us to understand that a challenge like this can be a catapult for more deviant behavior against authority figures in schools.  

July 2021 - Spray a Neighbor’s Fence Challenge

While it's not clear the extent of this challenge, it seems an obvious path to more vandalism in communities as the challenges spill into the summer months beyond school.

A lot of these challenges are serious offenses, and they could involve suspension, expulsion, and even criminal charges if involved. These are choices that children make that could come with some serious consequences that have the ability to follow them for the rest of their lives. That is why it is so important to make sure children understand that these are not fun challenges to take part in and it could have an impact on their college applications and future jobs. With youth wanting their “viral” moment online, these all may seem like their ticket to the big time.

TikTok has been quick to shut down the trend, with the company removing many of the videos from its platform.  Search the term "devious licks" on the app now, and a message from TikTok appears: "No results found. This phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines. Promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok's top priority. For more information, we invite you to review our Community Guidelines."
  
"We expect our community to stay safe and create responsibly, and we do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities. We are removing this content and redirecting hashtags and search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior," a TikTok spokesperson told CNN.  People have shared the videos on other platforms as well.

Why Students are Participating in the Challenges

Tweens and teens are vulnerable to peer pressure and are trying to establish where they fit in socially.  Middle school students, in particular, are desperate for acceptance and may make impulsive decisions to fit in. They're more prone to impulsive behavior because their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for logical thinking, isn't fully developed yet.

Over the past year, several boys have been referred to mental health professionals by schools for vandalizing property. One of the students who had destroyed a bathroom admitted that he didn't want to do it but succumbed to peer pressure.  The student "felt it was wrong, but he was dared to do it by a group of classmates at a party, a group he desperately wanted to be a part of." 
 
Some experts believe the pandemic, the developing formation of the frontal lobe that controls impulsive behavior, and the idolization of young social media stars have caused a perfect storm for our youth.

They literally can’t stop themselves.
 

What the Destructive TikTok School Challenges Are Teaching Us About Mental Health

 
Many teachers are talking about how difficult this school year has been with regard to behavior issues. They’ve said that many kids don’t know how to behave in school. Kids have to relearn how to be uncomfortable, bored, or focused.

Mental health and emotional well-being have historically fallen to the wayside. Society slaps band-aids on mental health issues instead of addressing the root causes. We expect people who are not okay to act like they are okay. And we feel irritated and inconvenienced if they don’t.

The pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues in both adults and kids. Everyone is emotionally tapped out. And if many adults don’t have the necessary resources and tools to take care of their mental health, we can’t expect kids to be able to tend to theirs.

We’re all acting as if life is back to normal.  We went from a hybrid schooling model with minimal activities to being thrust into full-time school with regular activities.  We all want life to be normal again. But wanting something to be normal doesn’t actually make it normal.  We have all been through a collective trauma. And the trauma isn’t over. We are still living with uncertainty. Kids are getting COVID. Kids are being quarantined from school because they were exposed to COVID. Kids are being sent home from school because they have coughs.

We have put kids back into school and activities and are pretending like life is normal and that the kids are okay. We can pretend all we want, but pretending will not make life actually be normal or the kids actually be okay.

Kids are not okay. Parents are not okay. Teachers are not okay.  If the TikTok challenge teaches us anything, it’s that no one is okay.
 

What Parents Can Do

Parents should speak with their children about their social media habits.  If parents are non-judgmental, their kids will likely teach them about the latest trends, which gives parents the opportunity to prevent their children from making mistakes with serious consequences.
 
Do not think because your child doesn’t have TikTok (or social media) that you don’t have to talk to them.  These challenges are being discussed in locker rooms and busses and lunch tables and text messages and everywhere in between.
 
Ensure your child understands that any participation in the act makes them culpable and responsible. Much like having nude photos on your phone, any role they play in the “crime,” including being the “lookout,” filming the event, or coordinating in any way, can put your child at risk for disciplinary or legal action. Many schools are taking these acts very seriously and are now looking beyond school disciplinary action, and instead, handing the matter, over to local police. Your child needs to understand that if the damage exceeds a certain dollar amount, they could be committing a felony.

Discuss your child’s digital reputation and how participating in these challenges can impact their future. Many colleges, employers, and other organizations constantly scan social media accounts to monitor volatile or extreme behavior. Additionally, as we’ve seen in the past, like when Harvard University revoked admissions for at least 10 incoming students after the school discovered the individuals were posting explicit and obscene memes, other students are willing to call this behavior out. It’s important for kids to understand that participating in these events could impact their college choice or future employment. Friendships may fade, but social media posts are forever, particularly when people save screenshots.

Talk about ways your child can prevent and report this type of behavior. Many kids don’t want to be considered a tattle-tale or get bullied for ratting out another student. Provide your child with a few options on how to communicate to school administrators if they see something happening at their school. This could include an anonymous note or go through a trusted adult, such as the school’s social worker, resource officer, or guidance counselor. At the minimum, encourage your child to tell you so you can report it to the administration either anonymously or directly.

Don’t underestimate your child’s desire for your approval. Clearly and concisely tell your child how disappointed you would be if you received a call from the school about their participation in these events. This in of itself is a powerful deterrent.

TikTok Today, Escalation Tomorrow

As these issues come together, another perfect storm can happen.  As a society, we are potentially missing a big picture moment.  Maintaining a safe learning environment for teachers and students is all about being ready to respond to new threats at any moment.  These TikTok challenges are a small example of what administrators are faced with each day as environments evolve.  

However, if we do not recognize the "perfect storm" of behavior brewing, we may be missing a much larger threat looming.  While most students won't even participate in these TikTok challenges, a small portion will.  The same holds true for students who may be prone to extreme behavior and mass violence.  There has been a noticeable increase in the number of threats against school campuses, nationally and locally, made through social media, texts, gaming platforms, and written notifications.

For example, in Palm Beach County Florida, since the beginning of the school year, the School District Police Department has filed criminal charges in six cases for threats against schools and is investigating others.  Just last week, a 16-year-old high school student in the District admitted to making a threat, which he told School Police he did as a joke. He was arrested and charged under Florida State Statute 836.10, which is titled: Written threats to kill or do bodily injury. Additional charges may be forthcoming. 

This district has done an amazing job in identifying students participating in these threatening behaviors as do many other school districts across the country.  However, as the grim history of mass shootings proves, not all violent intent is thwarted.  

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