Classroom Technology

4 Tips for Tackling TikTok Challenges That Disrupt School

By Alyson Klein — October 13, 2022 2 min read
Illustration of hands holding up smart phones
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Stealing school property. Reporting a fake school shooter. Using a penny and a cellphone charger to create a spark from an electrical outlet. Eating chips so spicy that they come with an extensive warning label. All while recording yourself, of course.

Those are just a few of the most popular—and for educators, headache rendering—TikTok challenges making the rounds in K-12 schools over the past few years. Some are harmless, while others have caused property damage, resulted in trips to the hospital, and disrupted learning.

What do educators need to know about TikTok challenges? And what are the best ways to address them? Here’s a quick rundown of what educators and experts had to say:

1. Understand how peer pressure and social media combine to fuel risky challenges

TikTok challenges are a kind of mashup between social media—where many Gen Z kids spend a good chunk of their social lives—and the peer pressure and risk-taking behavior that teens have always been susceptible to.

“Developmentally, it’s just tapping into this natural tendency of teens, and then amplifies it and spreads it super-fast,” said Christine Elgersma, the senior editor of learning content strategy at Common Sense Media, which examines the impact of technology on children. “There is a peer pressure element combined with wanting to get that attention, either to go viral or to be a part of the cool thing.”

2. It’s almost impossible to predict or get ahead of every TikTok challenge. So don’t spin your wheels trying

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company Byte Dance, doesn’t come up with these challenges. Its users do. Some catch on and go viral, spreading across the country and even the world. And a challenge will sometimes seem to disappear for a bit, only to resurface.

Trying to track which ones are hot at any given moment so that your school remains prepared is a wasted effort, Elgersma said. “It’s fairly impossible because they cycle through so quickly,” she said. “You’d have to know exactly who to follow and where these things surface to really get wind of it before it hits the news.”

3. Ask students questions about why they or their peers participate in TikTok challenges. Try not to come across as judgmental

When talking to kids about why these challenges are not good ideas, educators should avoid appearing judgmental or calling the challenges “stupid,” Elgersma said. Instead, they should pick one or two challenges and ask students questions like: Why are these behaviors so popular, even though they can be harmful? How do you find out about new TikTok challenges? Have you participated in any? Why or why not?

Contacting students’ parents and caregivers to give them a heads-up about a particularly dangerous or prevalent challenge is a good idea too. But schools should avoid overhyping the situation, since most kids likely won’t be participating in the challenges, Elgersma added.

4. Let students know there will be consequences for their behavior, especially if it disrupts school

Brian Fleischman, the principal of Overton School, a K-12 school in Nebraska, has known many of his students since they were kindergarteners and thinks he has a pretty good idea who is likely to be susceptible to TikTok challenges.

When he hears of an especially egregious “challenge,” he will talk to some of those students before anything happens. If they are thinking of participating in the challenge, he tells them “‘You’re going to open a Pandora’s box of garbage that you just don’t want to experience. It’s not worth it for 30 seconds of internet fame.’”


Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Roundtable Webinar: Why We Created a Portrait of a Graduate
Hear from three K-12 leaders for insights into their school’s Portrait of a Graduate and learn how to create your own.
Content provided by Otus

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology Video How Pedagogy Can Catch Up to Artificial Intelligence
Educators need to start considering how AI's capabilities should change what students learn, experts say.
1 min read
052224 EW LeadSym 406 BS
Chris Ferenzi for Education Week
Classroom Technology From Our Research Center The AI Classroom Hype Is All Wrong, Some Educators Say
Amid all the encouragement to try the technology, there are plenty of educators who don’t plan to start.
1 min read
Illustration of a large, sinking iceberg forming the letters "AI" as a business professional stands on the tip of the iceberg that remains above water with his hands on his hips and looking out into the large sea.
Classroom Technology What Worries District Tech Leaders Most About AI? (It’s Not About Teaching)
A new report from the Consortium for School Networking explores district tech leaders' top priorities and challenges.
3 min read
Motherboard image with large "AI" letters with an animated magnifying glass pans in from the left.
Classroom Technology From Our Research Center How Educators Are Using AI to Do Their Jobs
Educators are slowly experimenting with AI tools in a variety of ways, according to EdWeek Research Center survey data.
2 min read
Tight crop of a white computer keyboard with a cyan blue button labeled "AI"