Educators desperate to keep students’ attention will use anything to appeal to their young audience — but that doesn’t make TikTok an appropriate educational tool. As of last October, more than 94 million Americans used the short-form video platform at least once a month. That number is projected to increase to 101.3 million Americans by 2025. Although Facebook is still the king of social media platforms, TikTok has recently surpassed industry mainstays like Twitter, Reddit, and Snapchat.
It’s no surprise that educators are trying to meet the kids where they are. Administrators are happily filming TikToks with their students on school grounds, teachers are integrating TikTok into classroom instruction, and teacher-influencers are suggesting numerous ways to completely recenter student learning around the platform. Some districts, like Dallas ISD, even have TikTok accounts of their own.
The temptation to incorporate TikTok into American schooling is understandable, but not justifiable. It’s no secret that the platform has long-standing connections with the Chinese Communist Party’s intelligence services — Texas, North Dakota, Iowa and Maryland have recently banned TikTok from all government devices, citing security risks, and a bipartisan group has now introduced federal legislation that would ban the app in the U.S. entirely. And yet the platform is allowed to remain in public schools, and even to be used in classrooms. At the risk of sounding like a boomer, I think it’s safe to say TikTok shouldn’t be used in schools at all.
For one thing, platforms like TikTok alter the way students think. While all social media platforms have addictive properties, TikTok’s short video lengths mean kids can watch dozens of videos in mere minutes. As David Barnhart, a clinical mental health counselor at Behavioral Sciences of Alabama, explains, this sends the brain’s reward pathway into overdrive, and children in particular begin to require constant stimulation in order to remain sane.
This is a problem for schools on its own — kids won’t learn reading or math if they’re constantly pining for TikTok, or if their attention spans are so short that they can’t focus. Moreover, even if a teacher tries to integrate TikTok as a learning tool, kids can, will, and do easily swipe to an unrelated, possibly inappropriate video. Even more alarming is the fact that disreputable people and organizations know exactly how to exploit TikTok addiction.
The list goes on and on: Drug cartels using TikTok to entice Texas teens into illegally transporting both people and narcotics; young Italian mafia members using TikTok to display their decadent lifestyles; and children negatively influencing their peers by posting “aggressively sexual” content. Furthermore, numerous “challenges” encourage kids to steal cars and fire toy guns at other people’s property.
These challenges have made their way into schools as well. A TikTok challenge last December urging students to send their schools veiled threats closed buildings and forced lockdowns across the country. In Frisco, this single challenge led to more than a half dozen arrests.
And threats are only part of the concern. At a time when districts should be cracking down on student misbehavior, TikTok challenges have made schools even less suitable for learning. Among other things, they have encouraged students to slap their teachers, demanded that students steal or vandalize school property, and treated sexual misconduct on shool grounds as a joke. In some districts, the damages have exceeded $5,000. In others, like Round Rock ISD, those numbers exceeded $15,000.
When educators allow and incorporate TikTok in the classroom, no matter how much the platform is diluted for school use, they are facilitating access to harmful material. And when that harmful material is enough to cause thousands of dollars in damages to taxpayers, then it becomes everyone’s problem.
TikTok’s popularity does not make it useful or productive. The possible harms to kids and schools outweigh any educational benefit the platform may provide. Therefore, educators shouldn’t wait on the federal government to ban TikTok — they should’ve gotten it out of schools yesterday.