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What parents should know about “devious licks”

Social media challenge encourages delinquency at school

A sign on a restroom at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Kan., this week Associated Press/Cuyler Dunn

What parents should know about “devious licks”

On Sept. 1, TikTok user @jugg4elias posted a video of disposable masks he had stolen from his school with a caption: “A month into school. Absolutely devious lick.” School districts across the country soon began reporting vandalism and theft of school property—often in restrooms—as students began adding their own “licks,” slang for “theft,” to TikTok, a social media app for sharing short videos.

Stolen items range from COVID-19 tests to restroom mirrors to fire alarms, and schools have reported damaged sinks, toilets, and ceilings. Some schools have posted staffers to monitor restrooms: Closing the restrooms doesn’t always work because students steal the “Closed” signs.

West Ridge High School in Blountville, Tenn., opened in a new building in August. But on Monday, principal Joshua Davis told parents in a letter that toilets had been damaged, soap dispensers stolen, and plumbing “taken apart.” Police have  arrested four Florida teens for similar theft and vandalism.

TikTok is now removing videos with the hashtag #deviouslicks in an attempt to curtail the damage at schools. “We expect our community to create responsibly—online and [in real life],” the TikTok communications team tweeted last week. “Please be kind to your schools & teachers.”

Past social media trends, though not limited to TikTok, have also encouraged risky behavior. In August, the so-called milk crate challenge showed participants climbing stacks of crates before inevitably losing their balance and falling. The Tide Pod challenge prompted calls to poison control centers in 2018 when people ingested the highly concentrated detergent packs, and a 15-year-old in Oklahoma died last year after taking the Benadryl challenge. Other challenges have encouraged social media users to ingest nutmeg or drop a penny between an electrical outlet and a partially plugged-in cord.

Educational consultant, author, and junior high history teacher Janet Newberry said the devious licks challenge points to a deeper problem than earlier trends: “This trend, I think, is different in the cultural way that it glorifies defiance.”

Newberry said social media apps like TikTok can deliver short-term adrenaline rushes that many students prefer over the hard work of learning. While parents and teachers need to be willing to set boundaries and enforce consequences, relationship-building is key.

“You want to be the person they come to when they mess up,” Newberry said. “‘You did mess up and you are going to have consequences, but I am going to stick with you while you experience those consequences’—our kids are desperate for people to do that with them.”

Lauren Dunn

Lauren covers education for WORLD’s digital, print, and podcast platforms. She is a graduate of Thomas Edison State University and World Journalism Institute. She lives with her family in Wichita, Kan.


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I was hoping to read about Gabby Petito. Very sad story