This month’s social media headache was the Devious Lick challenge, where kids were supposed to vandalize their school bathrooms, get it on video and upload it to TikTok. For background, Urban Dictionary describes a “lick” as “a successful theft which results in an acceptable, impressive, and rewarding payday for the protagonist.” This usually means a lot of likes and shares on social media.
The most common licks in this specific challenge were stealing soap dispensers, ripping up lockers, and damaging toilets. Some schools have reported north of $100k in damage. Others had to partially close restrooms in order to prevent additional issues.
Sunlake High School in Land O’Lakes, Florida, posted about the challenge on Facebook, telling the community that “while kids may think this is a harmless prank, it is indeed criminal activity which will lead to serious school consequences and arrests.”
“Soap dispensers, exit signs, safety signage for fire rescue, and classroom telephones are just a few of the items that were removed and stolen this week,” the school wrote. “We love our Seahawks and we do not want to see any of them arrested so PLEASE talk to your kids. If they are participating in this activity you will be hearing from an administrator and our School Resource Officer. Let’s work together to put a stop to this now.”
TikTok, which is about the worst in controlling content, took the videos down and banned some hashtags. TikTok is redirecting content, hashtags, and search results regarding the challenge to their community guidelines. The TikTok communications team posted a tweet asking users to “please be kind to your schools & teachers,” but kids being crafty like they are, have figured out ways to get around it, and of course, upped the ante.
Now, kids have set monthly “themes” to execute until NEXT JULY! These include:
September: Vandalize school bathrooms
October: Smack a staff member
November: Kiss your friend’s girlfriend at school
December: “Deck the halls and show your b***” (show your private parts)
January: Jab a breast
February: Mess up school signs
March: Make a mess in the courtyard or cafeteria
April: “Grab some eggz” (another stealing challenge)
May: Ditch day
June: Flip off in the front office
July: Spray a neighbor’s fence
I’m. Not. Kidding.
Of course, now many teachers are worried that kids may try to slap them starting October 1. Because they didn’t already have enough to worry about this year.
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.
And honestly, the potential for one video to go viral and a teen becoming “TikTok famous” is not unfathomable, so some kids are willing to take the risk.
Kids have been doing stupid pranks and destroying property for generations, but we are now at an unsustainable level. Peer pressure is cited as an additional major contributing factor as to why many kids are doing the challenges.
In fact, many middle schoolers who have been caught vandalizing property have said that they were dared by other students and even though they knew the behavior was wrong, they wanted to fit in with some other kids.
But we can’t sit by idly and let this happen. We’ve talked to a few therapists and put some ideas together on how you can discuss these challenges with your tweens and teens:
+ 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.
Try to avoid dropping idle threats like, “If you do that I will kill you.”
Instead, start an ongoing dialogue letting them know how this behavior impacts the entire school and how their school can allocate resources. Try to remain non-judgmental and instead ask questions like, “Why do you think your classmates are doing this?” or “How does this make you feel?”
Better yet, sit down and read the community guidelines together on any social media site you let them use and make them sign a contract that if they do not follow the rules they will have to forfeit their use. This can take the emotion out of any issue that comes up when you need to address their behavior.
+ 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.
At the end of the day, we’re hoping these challenges fade away like the TidePod challenge of yore, but for now, keep talking to your kids and model your support for teachers and administrators.