TV6 Investigates: Local schools talk TikTok challenges, student behavior

Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 9:35 PM CDT
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - TikTok is a social media platform that allows its users to upload videos from 15 seconds to 3 minutes long.

Some use to express themselves positively, and others use to self-destruct.

“I think TikTok has not only made teachers jobs harder but all school employees jobs harder,” said Joe Stutting, superintendent of North Scott School District.

The platform was created in 2018, but skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic. It was a way for people to connect with each other during quarantine, especially among the youth population, with the tech company Oberlo reporting that 30% of all TikTok users nationwide are younger than 18.

While there are parents who say the platform has been a wonderful way for their kids to express themselves, the app has garnered problems, too.

“We’ve had toilet paper, soap dispensers ripped off the wall,” said Pleasant Valley High School’s principle Darren Erickson in September 2021 when TV6 spoke with him regarding the “Devious Licks” challenge.

“Devious Licks,” a TikTok challenge which was infiltrating schools in late 2021, involved teenagers either vandalizing school bathrooms or stealing school property and filming it, under the hashtag “#deviouslicks.”

TV6 even saw a piece of pizza that was stuffed in a bathroom urinal at Pleasant Valley High School while filming the story.

“Devious Licks” is pat of a longer list, however, involving challenges for school children each month h starting September 2021 and ending July 2022.

The list is an extension of ongoing “challenges” teens nationwide have given each other over the platform.

One such challenge from late 2020 left North Scott School District in the middle of a now-dismissed lawsuit. Documents showed that two students, following the “skull-crusher” challenge, tripped a third student, causing the student to become unconscious.

“Two students stood on the side of another student [and] he jumped and landed on his head,” said Stutting.

The documents don’t state whether the two un-named students were charged criminally.

“I’ve been allowed to see things that are almost morally criminal on those platforms,” said a local substitute teacher who agreed to speak to TV6 anonymously.

They stated they have seen TikTok challenges being performed in class. “The kind that are usually attention seeking [and] destructive.”

TikTok as a whole is not an intentionally negative platform, however.

In fact, the app’s stream is based on what the user likes.

If the user “likes” like videos of dancing, or cute animals, the app will use that data to form an algorithm that’s largely based on the preferred subjects.

However, it’s largely unregulated, meaning other videos may pop up like school “challenges.”

Impressionable youth can therefore potentially be exposed to dangerous or troublesome behavior.

“I think there’s always been some type of challenge or activity that was dangerous and would pop up every now or then,” said Stutting, “what TikTok’s done is make it viral and go everywhere.”

It’s not that young people these days are more impressionable than past youth. Different versions of trends and challenges have been around for generations.

It is the virality of TikTok challenges and the app’s lack of regulation that the problem lies. The platform having been called on for more regulation by multiple news outlets and politicians, including Connecticut’s Attorney General, whose public outcry against the platform led to the removal the “devious licks: hashtag in September and an add-on of safety guidelines for the app.

It’s not enough, however, say to teachers and administrators in our local schools.

“I think our companies need to be held accountable and take serious how they impact young people,” added Stutting.

According to area schools, the trends ebb and flow. When a challenge comes about, Stutting says the schools email parents to notify them about it.

As for punishments following a challenge which causes trouble, students are given detention, suspension, and can even be criminally charged in extreme cases.

In order to combat TikTok challenges, local administrators encourage parents to teach their children about using the platform.

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