Forget 'The Kids These Days'; It's The Adults And Their Moral Panics To Worry About

from the truly-devious-licks dept

A recent episode of the Reply All podcast, Absolutely Devious Lick, touched on a bunch of interesting points regarding the never-ending debates about social media, content moderation, and how it’s supposedly damaging the kids these days. It’s worth listening to the entire episode, but it begins by talking about a very slightly viral TikTok “challenge” which became known as Devious Licks — lick being slang for something you stole. It started with a kid putting up a TikTok video of him holding a box of disposable masks, suggesting that he had stolen it from the school. Because school kids sometimes do stupid things to copy their stupid friends, a few others posted similar videos, including one early one of a kid taking a soap dispenser. And then there were some stories of it spreading and people going more extreme, because, you know, kids. But it didn’t seem to spread that far initially.

But, of course, the thing became a lot more viral after mainstream media jumped on it with their typical “OMG, the kids these days” kind of coverage, starting with the New York Times, CNN, USA Today and then like every random local news jumping on the trend to tsk tsk about the kids these days.

Prominent grandstanding Senator, Richard Blumenthal called on TikTok execs to testify over all of this, which turned into another ridiculous Senate hearing in which old men yell at social media execs about how they’re harming kids.

But, scratch the surface a little, and beyond a few dumb kids, this seems a lot more like adults over-reacting and freaking out, and making the story go much, much, much more viral than it did in reality. Indeed, the only news organization I’ve seen that recognized that most of this was a moral panic by adults was Curbed, which noted that, yes, there was some actual vandalism done by kids, but a lot of it seemed to be kids mocking the trend as well:

For all the real-life vandalism, what is also very real is that some of these teen punks might be punking us all too. One student, Gavino, a 17-year-old high schooler in Minnesota, uploaded a video showing a classroom sink gushing water, describing it as a ?Devious Lick? gone wrong. When I contacted him over Snapchat, however, he told me he wasn?t actually trying to poach the faucet. It was broken, so he made a video about it. When I reached out to another student, a 14-year-old, who posted a TikTok stuffing Chromebooks into his backpack, he told me he didn?t even take them out of the building.

?Seeing people do it, others think they can ?one-up? the last person and get something better without getting caught,? Gavino said, adding, ?It?s just being funny, trying to get five seconds of fame on a big platform.? Said a 17-year-old girl in L.A., who posted a video ?stealing? a microscope from her science lab (she actually owned it, and she filmed the TikTok at home), ?I made the video because obviously it was trending. Mostly, it?s for internet clout. And to be funny. It?s not a ?fitting in? type of thing. It?s literally just for clout, to show off or ? whatever.?

Meanwhile, pretty damn early in all of this, TikTok banned the “Devious Lick” tag and told people searching for it to knock it off:

Also, as far as I can tell, none of the media orgs that covered the whole moral panic freak-out noted that a bunch of kids started to counterprogram whatever vandalism occurred in the opposite direction, posting the opposite of “devious licks”: angelic yields, where they would show themselves adding new items to schools (often school bathrooms, since so many of the devious licks stories were about soap and toilet paper being taken from bathrooms).

And that brings us back around to the Reply All episode, which followed a secondary freak-out, after the Devious Licks challenge, in which a document was being passed around claiming to have pre-planned a bunch of other “challenges” for kids in school throughout the rest of the school year. Each month, the posting suggested, kids were planning to do crazy stupid shit (I mean, more crazy and more stupid than any normal teenager) in schools… for TikTok. But, as Reply All’s Anna Foley noted, everything about the story just seemed weird — including (1) teenagers actually planning shit out for an entire school year, and (2) the language on the document didn’t sound at all like kids (“slap a teacher on the backside“?!?!?).

Foley started investigating and… basically tracked it down to adults freaking out. She found a School Resource Officer (SRO) who had been early posting the list to Facebook, who didn’t seem particularly concerned at all whether or not it was accurate or not — taking the typical “better safe than sorry” kind of approach. And from there, she traced it back to a school superintendent who claimed she had gotten it from students, though wouldn’t say who. But what becomes pretty clear is that almost no kids were passing it around or seriously considering it.

Indeed, there’s a hilarious moment in the podcast in which Foley quotes posts from kids laughing and mocking all the adults falling for this nonsense.

It’s hard not to look at this like any other moral panic by adults who somehow have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. Are there teenagers doing stupid stuff — including some theft and vandalism? Yes, of course. Because that’s something teenagers do. I mean, I did stupid shit as a teenager too. But, the idea that this is something new, or is caused by social media doesn’t really get much support in reality. It does seem like the real “disinformation” came from the adults, not the kids, and the people who bought into it were the adults, not the kids — and the leading vector of it being sent around was the mainstream media, not social media.

But I don’t see Senator Blumenthal calling the head of CNN, the NY Times, and USA Today to come testify about their role in spreading “devious lick” news to gullible adults. Because then he’d have to admit that he, too, is a silly gullible adult.

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Comments on “Forget 'The Kids These Days'; It's The Adults And Their Moral Panics To Worry About”

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16 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Prominent grandstanding Senator, Richard Blumenthal called on TikTok execs to testify over all of this, which turned into another ridiculous Senate hearing in which old men yell at social media execs about how they’re harming kids.

So if I traumatize a bunch of kids with a video of Senator Blumenthal, can I call him to my office and yet at him for being a monster, and then urge congress to do something (and be compelling)?

PS. I’d never do that for two reasons, dealing with a bunch of kids sounds like a pain. And needlessly traumatizing anyone is kind of gross.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Just all of you whippersnappers wait for it, all of you will be dead by the end of the day because your parents didn’t love you enough to have your candy metal detected and swabbed looking to fentynal!!!!!!!

In a call back to previous discussions about Government/Congress – if they see it they assume its real.
Thats why the DHS (iirc) office was remade to be the bridge of the Enterprise.
Its a TikTok showing someone get shot, we have to do something to stop the violence on the platform… ignoring the kid posted many more videos after the alleged death.

Someone find that Insta account of the woman who goes to all the Insta pic hotspots and takes picture of herself dead at them. Maybe we can get Congress to pass a law keeping us away from these destinations.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Adults want teens to not have any fun

This reminds me of the whole rainbow parties thing which made the news in the…nineties? A long time ago. News was delivered by TV rather than internet.

The premise was a teen sex party in which the girls would wear different colored lipstick before fellating the boys, who’d then get to compare rainbow stains.

In the You’re Wrong About podcast Sarah Marshall notes some of the logistics problems, including deciding which girl gets to wear green lipstick, and then assuring each girl only performs to specific depth and doesn’t stain anyone else’s work. It seemed like enough trouble to take all the fun out of the sex part of a sex party.

I believe this was discussed on the Tipper Gore versus Heavy Metal episodes (Part 1, Part 2) but I’ve listened to the series a lot and may have guessed wrong.

But a recurring point throughout the You’re Wrong About podcast series is our moral guardians making shit up from whole cloth about what teens / gangs / wolves / clowns / compact cars are doing to bring an end to society, and then pressure our legislators to pass laws based on their assertions. It’s the Malleus Maleficarum forever in a loop.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Always has been

I don’t like being labeled a millennial; I’m 40, I’m Gen Y damn it. I’m also a mom.
Anyway, the world continues to change and eventually looks unfamiliar to everyone at some point. The gut instinct is to blame it on the new guys; after all who are these people? Who raised them, why do they enjoy such ridiculous things? I didn’t like such stupid stuff, I spent hours "talking" on the phone and watching MTV! Something must be wrong with them, have you listened to what they call music? Kids are learning common core, not critical thinking! Where are their parents, why aren’t they supervising their kids?
I don’t think like this, but it’s not entirely illogical, even for millennials. I knew this devious licks thing was just another moral panic, just like "rape day", that supposedly was being spread and encouraged on TikTok. I had to explain to my slightly younger husband that it was bullshit, among other stories that his right-wing buddies feed him.
And I’m not trying to claim to be cool; I still don’t know any songs by Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Drake (I mean, maybe I do, but I don’t know that they are the performers) I’ve never played Minecraft, or any version of GTA. I will never wear tapered, or pleated pants/mom jeans ever again. My part will always be down the middle because I have a cowlick that will not allow anything else, I just watched all the Avengers and Marvel movies, and I looked up "thot" to find out what it meant. I’m just trying trying to not fall so far behind of this strange new world

Glenn says:

School board meetings, right? Parents should be forced to bring their kids with them to the meetings so the kids can witness just how childish their parents are nowadays. There’s a small chance that having their kids there will convince them to pretend they’re mature and responsible. Also, please keep out people who don’t even have kids since, well, they have no standing.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

For your first point, just a few days ago a 17-year-old girl was {shouted down at a school board meeting](https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10148303/Gay-student-sharing-experience-bullying-shouted-woman.html)* (by an adult) while she was speaking about being bullied at school over her sexual identity (she’s gay).

As to the second, if you don’t allow people without children into school board meetings for "lack of standing" do you also not tax them to pay for education? Remember taxation without representation was a major reason for the creation of the United States in the first place.

*Sorry about the Daily Mail link, while I read it elsewhere, this was the first one I found in my search just now.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re:

please keep out people who don’t even have kids since, well, they have no standing.

People without kids are still affected by the education system. If it fails to teach the kids to read, everyone suffers diminished productivity in society and increased risk of rule by stupid people.

Sure, I’d be pleased not to pay taxes to the school board. I’d be even more pleased if I thought they were competent, or at least able to find their butts with both hands and a cheat sheet.

Anonymous Coward says:

But I don’t see Senator Blumenthal calling the head of CNN, the NY Times, and USA Today to come testify about their role in spreading "devious lick" news to gullible adults. Because then he’d have to admit that he, too, is a silly gullible adult.

Or, or… this is their own devious lick, and the real issue is they don’t want any real competition from teens doing their own silly, harmless versions of devious licks or fake/devious devious licks, but they do actually enjoy them as fuel for their "adult" panicky devious moral licks since that’s what gets them attention in the uh, reality app. (Someone should call the operators of reality before Congress and sort this out!)

Anonymous Coward says:

Consider that for adults, they hold constantly shrinking influence, relevance and meaning over the world. At least most of them. Power and control is concentrated in the hands of highly exclusive elites. The terms and conditions for success in the world, the relationship between hard work and results, have essentially been gutted by corporate practice and offshoring menial tasks. Younger generations no longer find meaning in competing for an ever-diminishing pie and seek other pathways to success that their parents would never have dreamed of or considered appropriate.

Where I am, another debate about a national exam has erupted after 12 year olds were given more test questions that even most adults couldn’t solve, never mind in a two-hour, high pressure situation. The older generations finally have to contend with, if not accept the fact that their methods have simply not scaled and evolved with the needs and challenges of a constantly chaotic world, they don’t have the answers to their kids, and their ways of doing things might actually be detrimental. Waving a clenched fist in outrage about "those durn kids" is about the only way the older generations can hold some semblance of relevance, by harkening to times that they’re more familiar with.

nasch (profile) says:

Fitting in

“I made the video because obviously it was trending. Mostly, it’s for internet clout. And to be funny. It’s not a ‘fitting in’ type of thing. It’s literally just for clout, to show off or … whatever.”

It’s not a fitting in thing, it’s just because everyone else is doing it, and I want them to like me, and to show off for my friends.

Huh?? If that’s not trying to fit in, what is?

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