From one dangerous TikTok viral challenge to the next, parents and school administrators have been challenged before. Not like this.
The viral #deviouslick challenge is forcing police departments and school systems to deal with vandalism and stolen property crimes committed by students seeking “TikTok Clout.”
For the uninitiated, a “lick” in TikTok speak means “stealing” or “theft”. The social media network where users post short videos of themselves doing things for likes and shares has been the subject of other problematic challenges in the past. Dropping pennies between a wall outlet and a smartphone charger caused fires. Police warned about a TikTok challenge promoting users to step out of a moving car to dance. The recent “Milk Crate Challenge” sent some TikTok users to the hospital after becoming injured falling off a stack of plastic crates.
The "devious lick" challenge has TikTok users, mostly high school students, stealing things from classrooms and vandalizing bathrooms. TikTok responded saying it would remove related videos from the newsfeed but as of Thursday afternoon, you can still see video clips of students ripping soap dispensers off of walls and unzipping backpacks showing what they’ve stolen from teacher’s desks.
“Once kids start watching these challenges, they build. They escalate. Everyone wants to outdo each other,” said Christine Elgersma, senior editor of social media for Common Sense Media.
The challenge for parents when it comes to viral videos is that by the time they learn something has gone viral, it’s too late to stop it. A viral challenge is seen by millions of TikTok users. By then, other videos follow showing more people accepting the challenge.
In the case of devious lick, by the time parents, administrators or even TikTok’s algorithm noticed, the pranks and vandalism had already been spotted in schools across the country. So what can parents do?
“I think just talking to kids in a blanket way about these challenges, because we’re often unaware as adults of what’s happening, is really the way to approach it,” Elgersma said.
Talking to teenagers about pranks and challenges is a lot different than talking to youngsters about the dangers of social media. Talking to teenagers about anything can be a challenge in itself. Elgersma said rather than confronting a teenager to find out if they’re involved, parents should approach it as a curiosity.
“I think if you can do an end-run like, 'hey have you heard of this thing? What is this? Do you know anyone involved?'” she explained is sometimes a good way and not asking directly if they’re involved.
Discouraging kids from liking or sharing dangerous or illegal activity might also help, but it’s a tall order trying to keep something from going viral.
I asked Elgersma if, in her experience, she’s found there are certain types of people or students who might engage in these TikTok videos. She said there is no guarantee one way or another, but she did say, in some cases it’s true.
“Kids with lower impulse control, who might not think through the consequences. If that’s been a pattern for your kid through their lives. They like adrenaline and they like taking risks, the consequences don’t matter that much. Then they might want to join in these things,” she said. “If you have a performer who really enjoys being on social media for that kind of attention, they might also want to get involved”.
And finally, “If you have a kid who is desperate for positive attention, who may have had a harder time getting that sense of belonging and feeling a part of a community, they might also be kids who are more prone to joining in,” Elgersma said.
TikTok is not inherently bad but parents who’ve never opened the app might be surprised at what they find. Many posts are filled with obscenities and other things parents would not want their children or teenagers to see. Elgersma said, like other social media channels, allowing kids to view an endless scroll of TikTok videos may be problematic.
“Without any oversight. Without any limits, it can be a place where kids can get a little lost or find things you may not want them to.”