Ah, TikTok. The teen obsession du jour. An app that becomes what you make of it. As an adult, you may find yourself on #TrueCrimeTok, #ToddlerTok, or #CookingTok, depending on how you interact with videos. Maybe you’ve even tried one of the many dance challenges on the app. But as a teacher, you’re certainly aware that TikTok has a more sinister side. The Devious Licks Challenge horrified us and took us completely by surprise. But that doesn’t mean that we need to panic over new warnings about “future” TikTok challenges. Let’s dig into why that is.
What are these new warnings?
Since Devious Licks has fallen to the wayside, there are now a few viral posts going around with the intention of warning schools about the monthly challenges that kids have planned, from now until next May. Folks are understandably worried (no one wants to get slapped). The “schedule” is being shared far and wide, mostly by adults who aren’t sure about its validity but share it anyway. As educators, we need to be more careful. We may spend valuable energy on a problem that never materializes, and it wouldn’t be the first time if we did.
We’ve been here before
The current viral sensation reminds me of how adults were on alert for “Momo,” which was rooted in a bit of truth but ultimately revealed itself to be a gross exaggeration. The same was true when memes that there were drugs in Halloween candy or the “secret” meaning of text language were making the rounds. Making fun of the disconnection between adults and kids has been a source of entertainment for kids for a while. So has taking advantage of how protective parents are over their children. The “upcoming” TikTok challenges seem very much like something we’ve seen (and overreacted about) before.
Kids just don’t work this way
Kids don’t share information the same way adults do. They don’t usually plan a year ahead of time and then share the plan widely. As a former middle and high school teacher, I struggled just to get kids to write down their homework in their agenda books. Kids live in the moment—it’s my favorite thing about them. They don’t tend to work more than a few days ahead of where they are. They are spontaneous, and they decide to do and share things in the moment. It’s what their brains are set up for. Long-term decision-making and planning just isn’t their strong suit. So the idea that they would come up with a plan well into next spring should be hard for us to believe.
Adults, on the other hand, definitely plan that far ahead. It’s possible that this is originating among college students (they have to get good at long-term planning pretty quickly). But they’re not the ones sharing these memes of the plans.
So why are we reacting this way?
The Devious Licks challenge was definitely real. But there was no forewarning for it because kids act and share spontaneously. As adults, we often feel the need to believe we can control the next challenge. Schools didn’t like being caught off guard or being outsmarted by kids, so maybe that’s where these lists are coming from: well-meaning adults trying to brace themselves.
What should we be focused on?
There’s also a chance that there really are school-related TikTok challenges planned out. But even if that’s the case, we should really be focused on the real-life challenges we know for sure kids are facing. We have to remember that our students’ social and emotional growth has been stunted. They haven’t experienced school in a traditional sense in almost two school years. In that time, they may have become more attached to the world of social media than the real world. This had detrimental effects on the students, much more than the damage they could cause to any bathroom.
Our students are not OK, and these challenges, real or not, are a sign that they need help. There’s a need for more support than ever before, and consequences alone won’t stop or address these “challenges.” Students may need direct instruction on how to manage their emotions, to express and take care of themselves. Instead of speculating on what challenge is coming next month, or in May of next year, we should be collaborating on how to address the very real challenges kids face right now.