Ask the expert: Social media-spurred challenges and destructive behaviors

Insight from Miami’s College of Education, Health and Society faculty

By James Loy, College of Education, Health and Society

mcguffey hall entry closeup detail with leafy branches in front

McGuffey Hall, home of the College of Education, Health and Society.

A rise in destructive student behaviors encouraged by social media trends on platforms such as TikTok are occurring in many school districts. In recent weeks, the "devious licks" trend has resulted in criminal activities such as stolen soap dispensers, smashed bathroom equipment, vandalized walls, and more. Similarly, the recent announcement of the "slap your teacher" challenge has raised additional concerns. Miami University College of Education, Health and Society educational leadership faculty and experts are available to help schools address these and related issues.

Joel Malin, an associate professor who studies cross-sector collaborations to help schools create partnerships that can lead to progressive reform, says:

  • School leaders’ responses should mirror what they would do any time students act in ways that violate school policy, and should follow our best knowledge about how to correct misbehavior.”
  • There are some unique elements here (e.g., its emergence and acceleration through TikTok) that may require creative responses, which tells me that school leaders would do well to be in close contact with fellow educators and leaders to gather and share emerging insights and ideas.”
  • Active communication will be key. Over time, a shared norm can be re-established among all community members (students, parents, teachers, etc.) that school property is part of the community and always needs to be respected.”

Jed Hayes, an educational leadership doctoral candidate, who is a 16-year veteran of the education field with experience in K-12 teaching, administration, and academic advising, says:

  • “Because of the nature of social media, and how fast trends evolve, by the time a school or community finds a good way of dealing with one, we are probably on to the next. So good school leadership will look for root causes, and not just address the symptoms. To put it concisely, these are students who don’t feel a connection to their school community. They are seeking a way to be seen.”  
  • “We have to show that we believe in our students’ abilities and skills to make positive impacts on the school and the world. Something very pervasive in schools today is ‘deficit mindset,’ which asserts that our students come to us needing to be fixed and cultivated. But they already bring so much to our classrooms every day. Honoring that, finding a place for them to impact the school culture in positive ways - that is what will lead to TikTok trends becoming powerless.”

Jennifer Schwanke, Miami instructor in educational administration and a deputy superintendent for the Dublin City School District (Ohio), says:

  • “In response, districts (like us) actively communicated with students and families asking for support in ending this destructive movement. When we could prove who was behind a particular vandalism, we asked for restitution.”
  • “I think social correction was our biggest tool. The majority of students thought the whole thing was stupid and resented the damage a minority of students were doing to their schools. When they ‘rose up,’ the pranks lightened up significantly.”