NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A nationwide TikTok challenge prompted local principals, school districts, and law enforcement alike to send out alerts warning of students stealing items from school and destroying bathrooms. The principal of Green Hill High School ended his email to parents with “PS – I wish this was a joke…I really do…”
Enough students participated in the viral challenge in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System that 125 students received zero-tolerance expulsions for their actions during the 1st quarter of the 2021 school year. The vandalism left the school system with thousands of dollars in damage.
Dr. Mary Romano is an associate Professor of Adolescent and Young Adult Health at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She says, while the dare to commit crime may shock parents, to students viral challenges are about acceptance, acknowledgment, and a moment of fame. “In non-social media days, it was an in-person high five or like, ‘Hey, did you hear what someone said?’ Now It’s like, liked your post. I shared your post I retweeted…and adolescents crave that.”
Students’ thirst for connection is stronger than ever, Romano says, following a year of separation due to covid. Social media often fills their cup, both in a positive and sometimes negative way, washing away consequences that boils down to brain development.
“An adolescent brain is hardwired as such that this sort of emotional part of the brain or the Limbic system is kind of up and charged and running. And the Prefrontal Cortex of the brain, which sort of says, like, hey, yeah, that sounds cool, but maybe you could die. Or maybe you could get in trouble or arrested, that sort of regulatory control doesn’t work as well in adolescents,” Romano explains.
Parents need to help prepare their kids for these decision-making moments. For when they’re put on the spot, they don’t always make the best decision.
“Don’t just be like, ‘don’t go on TikTok’. Like, that’s not gonna work! But you know, hey, if you’re with your friend, and this TikTok challenge comes up, how are you going to navigate that? What are you going to do? So one, it helps them think about what their answer would be. And also, you know, comes up with an answer that helps them not screw up the thing that’s important to them, which is social acceptance,” explained Romano.
It’s an open line of communication that adolescents need to thrive.
“If they trust you and they can talk to you, and you can trust them and talk to them,” Romano said. “That relationship hopefully will lend itself to smart, productive social media.”
Crime in school is evolving and educators are concerned – News 2 is investigating what school districts are doing about it. Find more special reports on Crime in School on WKRN.com.
Romano also suggests parents draw up a physical contract clearly outlining expectations for phone and social media use and include the consequences for breaking the rules. If the rules are broken, parents must stick to the punishment. These clear boundaries also help kids make responsible decisions.