How Schools Are Handling TikTok Challenges


How Schools Are Handling TikTok Challenges

How Schools Are Handling TikTok Challenges

SoalSMA - How Schools Are Handling TikTok Challenges - From "Tricky Licks" to "Swallowing," TikTok challenges are causing disturbances — including vandalism, theft and false police reports — in schools across the country. 

And in addition to specific challenges, anonymous threats or footage of fights are often posted on forums and other social media sites, school officials say. 

This has led some schools or districts to take action, including teaching students about the appropriate use of social media, partnering with local law enforcement, and blocking TikTok from other sites on their internet networks.  Here's what students and parents need to know about the short-form video-sharing app and its impact on schools.

Why do young people participate in Tik Tok challenges?

The reasons why students participate in these tests vary.  Melissa McConnell, manager of career development and member engagement at the National School Public Relations Association, said some young people "want to know if they can do it or if their friends can do it."  "If they know it's something their friends have challenged them to do, many of them may not have the skills or confidence to say no."

Teenagers have this "developmental need" to be part of the community, says Joseph Galasso, a clinical psychologist and founder of Baker Street Behavioral Health in New Jersey.

"What better way to do that than to be a part of this collective courage or ritual that's happening online?"  He says.  "Historically, it could be behind a 7-Eleven or smoking a cigarette. There were drinking trends. This is a very new trend, and it's going to be like fantasy." 

Participating in TikTok challenges isn't always harmful.  Some challenges are simple, such as dancing with friends or lip syncing. 

Mark D. Benigni, superintendent of Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut, says students need to develop the ability to identify their differences.  "We want them to use the same skills (online) for good decision-making during the school day," he says.  "As we prepare our students to practice good digital citizenship, these are the conversations we need to have. Why is this an appropriate TikTok challenge and this one is not?"

How schools are responding.

TikTok challenges or threats have caused entire school days to be canceled or after-school activities to be postponed.  In December 2021, for example, several districts across the country locked down or increased security in response to what were believed to be generalized threats on TikTok — though it's unclear whether any of the threats were credible, school officials said.

In Missouri, Gasconade County Sheriff Scott Eiler wrote that "our office takes any threat seriously" regarding that county's school closures. 

Some schools also have outreach efforts to educate parents and students about social media.  The Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin, for example, uses after-school community programs like the Boys & Girls Club to teach students about cyber citizenship, said Anuradha Ibe, the district's deputy associate superintendent of middle schools. 

Other districts partnered with local law enforcement or the FBI to talk with families during information sessions about social media use and the dangers of posting illegal behavior or inappropriate content. 

"Kids are like, 'This is a cool trend.'  It's funny in their eyes," Ebe says.  "So really making them see that[they]are breaking the law. And in the long run, it can affect their future. If someone calls your references and this comes up, you may or may not get a job. Go to the university you want."

Although students may face consequences, the anonymity of TikTok accounts makes it difficult to identify who is behind offensive or threatening videos.  So students are often encouraged to report these types of videos online if they see them, McConnell said. 

"Unfortunately, when it comes to TikTok and all those social media platforms, school districts are treated as individual users," she added.  "When we want to report these kinds of accounts, we have to go through the same process that an individual would do to get an individual removed. Or we have to go to the police department and have them do the research and help us. So that we can take some kind of action on who this person might be."

Some schools or districts have decided to ban TikTok along with other social media sites on their networks.  But students can still reach them on their phones, says Keith Bockveldt, chief information officer at Hinsdale City High School District 86 in Illinois.

And while most schools prohibit the non-academic use of cell phones, it often falls to teachers to enforce these rules.  "We don't always want to take[phones]away from kids, because they want to be able to contact parents if emergencies happen," Bockwaldt said.  "It's just managing in class."

What can parents do to help?

TikTok, like other social media platforms, can be a way for young people to connect with others.  However, parents should be aware that in addition to the problems associated with destructive or illegal challenges, the platform has come under fire for pushing misinformation and potentially harmful content to young users and violating their privacy. 

A recent study found that nearly 1 in 5 videos on TikTok contain false information.  In December, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed two separate charges against TikTok, one alleging that the company is misleading and exposing minors to inappropriate content. 

Meanwhile, several state attorneys general are investigating TikTok and its potential harmful effects on the mental health of young users.  Research has shown that social media use can negatively impact young people's mental health, and teenagers may be particularly at risk.  In a recent survey, more than half of respondents between the ages of 14 and 24 said they have considered deleting a social media account or app because of disturbing content, bullying, misinformation or security concerns.

"What I see in my practice is how overwhelmed children and teenagers are by the speed at which information is coming at them," Galasso says.  "And how prone they are to comparing themselves to their peers and trying to keep up with everything that's going on, whether it's their friends or having this virtual network of connections." 

Experts say it's important to be involved with their child's online presence — understanding age requirements and what safety precautions are in place — and teaching them the difference between appropriate and inappropriate social media use.  Some schools or districts offer events specifically for parents to educate children about how to navigate social media, as well as the dangers. 

"I know it's hard," Galasso says.  "When I walk with my kids, it's uncharted territory, even for myself. It's about helping them realize that the way their brains perceive what's happening online as a child may not be 100 percent true. People online can and do look like them. Not everyone flies private jets like them and not everyone owns a Porsche. The information they digest Help them understand that size should come with realistic expectations.

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