Dangerous TikTok Trends Every Parent Should Be Aware Of

Not All TikTok Videos are Created Equal

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Dangerous TikTok Trends Every Parent Should Be Aware Of

Written by: Marybeth Bock

If you have a teenager, you know that TikTok is a wildly popular app. As the most downloaded app in 2020, the platform is predicted to reach 1.2 billion monthly active users by the end of 2021.

Since its inception, the app has sparked the interest of celebrities, brands and people of all ages. Even actor Will Smith, who was an early adopter of TikTok, has now amassed a following of over 60 million people.

But when you dive into the app’s statistics, you’ll find that (as of June 2021) the overwhelming majority of TikTok users (upwards of 60 percent) are identified as Gen Z – between the ages of 14 and 24 years of age. 

And, it’s easy to see why…

When you open the app, you’re greeted with a whirlwind of professional and amateur videos. Literally, anything from humor and hobbies to fitness, music, animal, dance, and photography – anything goes on TikTok. As a whole, “entertainment” is by the far the most popular content category on TikTok, which includes the ever-popular silly and funny video clips that are drawing our kids in by the millions. In fact, teenagers account for some of the most followed and highest-earning creators on the platform. 

It sounds pretty harmless. So, why are legislators and some parents pushing to ban certain TikTok videos?

For starters, not all TikTok videos are created equal. While the majority of videos found on TikTok are, in fact, harmless, entertaining and fun, there are plenty of dangerous TikTok trends and videos that slip through under the radar and more than a few TikTok challenges that have emerged that are anything but harmless. Those are the videos that have some lawmakers and parents up in arms. 

The Most Recent: Devious Licks Challenge

This fall, U.S. lawmakers called out TikTok executives, asking them to testify in front of a Senate subcommittee due to the so-called “Devious Licks Challenge, a damaging TikTok trend that urged middle and high school-aged students to vandalize, steal, or deface school property. At its peak, the “Devious Licks” hashtag had 100,000 videos with millions of cumulative views.

That challenge rose to popularity in early September, with reports of stolen and damaged items on school campuses across the country. The vandalism and thefts continued throughout the month, despite TikTok’s ban on the hashtag, which took place on Sept. 15. Since then, a list has been circulating on TikTok and Twitter, containing monthly challenges for the rest of the 2021-2022 school year.

The list includes behaviors and challenges that are not only physically harmful but illegal as well, which means students could end up facing more than just school punishment should they choose to participate in the challenges.

Recent Rash of “Tics” Involving Teen Girls

In the past, parents may have worried about teens ending up hurt or even worse, because of dangerous viral trends like the choking challenge or the milk crate challenge.

But now, parents and more than a few mental health experts, are concerned about the subtle effects that TikTok can have, even after teenagers have put away their phones. A recent Wall Street Journal article brought to light that it’s not only challenges and dances going viral. Teens are also displaying behaviors typically associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. 

This year, doctors around the country have reported an increase in teenage girls being seen for “tics” – the twitching movements and vocal outbursts commonly seen in people with Tourette Syndrome.

Most of the girls had watched TikToks of influencers who have Tourette Syndrome. Many of these teens who sought help for tics had already been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, which seemed to develop or worsen due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Medical experts are suggesting that this phenomenon may be happening for several reasons. Some of these teens may have had an undiagnosed tic disorder and did not realize it until they saw someone on TikTok displaying symptoms. Others may think they have a tic disorder because at some point in the past they were reprimanded for a certain behavior that is similar to what they were seeing on TikTok. 

But some mental health professionals believe that what teens are experiencing is an example of “social contagion,” a phenomenon in which attitudes, ideas, or behaviors — in this case, the tics — spread through a population. Sadly, there are instances of this happening where adolescents attempt to take their own lives after they’ve watched news coverage of suicides. 

The impact of social media on teens’ health is complicated.

When we see or hear our teens hysterically laughing with us or their friends while watching TikTok video, we can’t help but agree it’s an entertaining platform that’s bringing a much-needed escape to our lives along with connection to friends and family. But when we grasp what a powerful role TikTok can have in fueling social contagion and potentially harmful behaviors, we may need to consider monitoring our teens’ use.

As with any social media platform, take the time to have conversations with your kids about what they are seeing and make them aware of the potential dangers and challenges they may come across while scrolling through TikTok.

Make sure they know that participating in a trending challenge can result in not only physical harm to themselves or others, but also serious criminal consequences. 

Discuss and establish your own family’s safety rules and calibrate the app settings on all your teens’ devices. As Common Sense Media explains, TikTok has a restricted mode and different rules for different ages:

  • Users under 13 can’t post videos or comments, and content is curated for a younger audience. 
  • For kids aged 13 to 15, accounts are private by default; only friends can comment on videos, and other users can’t “duet” (screen share) with your videos. 
  • Only users 16 and over can live stream and use direct messaging, and only users over 18 can buy, send, or receive virtual gifts. 

For helpful information about setting up parental controls on TikTok, see this guide.

Don’t Let Your Kids Try These 9 Dangerous TikTok Trends

About Marybeth Bock:

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


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