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January 26, 2022

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CCSD laments spike in vandalism likely inspired by TikTok challenge


North East Side School District via The New York Times

A two-photo combo of photos shows vandalism in restrooms at the MacArthur High School in San Antonio, Texas. Students are taking items like soap dispensers, fire alarms and bathroom mirrors and posting the thefts and property destruction in TikTok videos.

The thirst for social media notoriety may be fueling a rash of school vandalism linked to the so-called “devious licks challenge,” a UNLV psychology professor said.

The challenge, which involves vandalizing or stealing school property, started on the social media app TikTok earlier this year after students returned to classrooms.

It mostly targets items in school bathrooms, such as soap dispensers or paper towel holders, but items like fire extinguishers and computers have also been stolen, according to media reports.

In a recent letter to parents, the Clark County School District noted “an increase in vandalism to our campuses.” The district did not indicate the extent of the problem or name schools involved.

“These actions appear to be tied to a social media trend and are creating a nuisance on our campuses and in the surrounding community,” the letter said.

The one-upmanship of the challenge can create a false sense of gratification as teens get validation for their behavior from their peers and social media users, UNLV psychology professor Stephen Benning said.

“A lot of adolescence, normatively speaking, is learning to test the limits, but many times those limits are more social, rather than with this kind of destructive behavior,” Benning said. “It’s possible that part of what’s happening here is that the attention people get for doing this kind of stuff, and then posting it for notoriety, is sort of a reward in and of itself,” he said.

In its letter, the School District asked parents to “engage their children in conversations about proper behavior” and warned such misconduct “will not be tolerated and can result in further disciplinary action.”

School District Police Lt. Bryan Zink said students could face suspension or a criminal citation for destroying property, depending on the severity of the incident.

Parents might also have to pay for damage, which could be hundreds of dollars to replace or repair items such as soap dispensers or toilets, Zink said.

“I don’t know very many middle school or high school kids that could pay to have some of this stuff repaired,” he said.

Schools may also not have the resources to make fixes, Zink said. “Honestly, if a kid broke something inside the school bathroom, it might not be immediately fixed,” he said. “You’re damaging your own school.”

The devious lick isn’t the first online challenge to cause problems.

The recent “milk crate challenge” dared individuals to climb an ascending stack of milk crates, mostly ending with people falling on stacks several crates high.

The “Tide pod challenge” of 2017-18 resulted in young people suffering injuries from eating or chewing on liquid laundry detergent pods.

TikTok, a short-video-sharing platform, said it is removing content posted with the hashtag #deviouslicks and other similar posts. But posters are making slight changes to the hashtag to sidestep the filters, Zink said.

“Just because it seems like it’s funny, it’s not,” Zink said. “Nobody cares if you do a little TikTok dance challenge or something — that’s funny, that’s cute and it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“But when you’re committing a crime to promote yourself on social media, we really have to take a look back at it and ask, ‘Is it worth it? Is this the type of person I am?’”