In school districts, consequences have ranged in severity, from bathroom closures and teachers moonlighting as facility monitors to threats of suspensions, expulsions and police involvement.
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So what would prompt a young person to partake in these risky trends?
While online platforms can give teenagers the opportunity to feel connected, they can also elevate social status and shape reputations. With the “devious licks” challenge, youth copy the general concept, but add their unique spin by creating their own short videos.
“Yes, people want to be recognized for doing something slightly differently,” said Dr. Amber Childs, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. “But at the same time, they’re all trying to fit in.”
Dr. Margaret McClure, a professor of psychology at Fairfield University and a clinical psychologist who specializes in adolescence, said that during adolescence, peer influence becomes stronger while that of family weakens.
That effect is multiplied by social media, which has increased young people’s social circles and strengthened those ties. The pandemic, which has forced people into their homes, “likely escalated the influence of finding social support from peers online,” McClure said.
Experts said although adults should take steps to discourage risky and, in this case, illegal behavior, the response cannot stop there.
“While it’s important to think through monitoring, it’s also really important to have conversations about that teenager’s values: who they want to be in the world, what they want to represent,” Childs said.
In response to the media reports, representatives for the platform posted on Twitter: “We expect our community to create responsibly — online and IRL (in real life). We’re removing content and redirecting hashtags & search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior. Please be kind to your schools & teachers.”
One of the earliest publicized incidents in Connecticut was in Weston, where a local high school reported several cases of vandalism in the bathrooms last week.
“We are asking that you also speak with your children about the dangers and consequences of engaging in illicit acts and posting them on social media,” wrote Juliane Givoniy, the interim principal, and Joe Mogollon, a school resource officer, in a letter to families.
Later that week in Fairfield, middle and high schools were enveloped by the trend. District officials said those involved had been disciplined, including detentions, restorative practices, and held responsible for repairs.
“Please talk to your kids and let them know that this is not a harmless prank, but destruction of school property that has very serious consequences,” Superintendent Mike Cummings notified families.
Westport, too, saw soap and towel dispensers torn off walls, soap spread over the bathroom floors, and a urinal screen shoved into a sink drain that caused a flood.
The incidents spurred new rules at Bedford Middle School: unsupervised boys bathrooms were locked, and teachers are requiring students sign in and out of classrooms to use the facilities. Families were alerted that students will be disciplined and, in some cases, referred to the Westport Police Department.
“Most concerning to me is the negative impact on our school culture and sense of trust,” Adam Rosen, the middle school principal, told parents.aside">