Teens Are Lying to Their Friends About Horrible Stuff For TikTok—Here's What Parents Need to Know

A viral post in which a teen told her younger sister that her parents died highlighted the trend. Here's how experts recommend parents tackle the issue head-on.

An image of teenagers on their phones.
Photo: Getty Images.

Whether in an effort to allay their own insecurities or cope with a barrage of other tough adolescent emotions, teens have been bullying and pranking their peers for eons. But social media has taken some cruel tricks to a whole new level, as evidenced by a viral Reddit post in which a mom detailed how her 15-year-old daughter filmed a friend lying to her little sister about their parents dying.

The original poster (OP), who uses the name u/ComprehensiveSpare55, daughter hid in her friend's closet, filming for TikTok when the friend called her 8-year-old sister in. She then "pretended to cry and told her that she had gotten news that their parents had just been killed in a car accident." Once the OP's daughter got the little girl's reaction, they told her it wasn't true.

"Needless to say, the friend's sister did not take it well even after being told of the truth, and the parents contacted me," wrote the OP. "I was absolutely disgusted, especially considering the intention was to humiliate her on TikTok."

The OP decided to ground her daughter and take her phone away, replacing it with an old one that's locked from doing anything but making and receiving calls, taking photos, and sending texts. A month passed, and the teen asked when she could get her phone back, to which the mom replied, "When you can afford to buy your own."

The two argued, and while the OP considered reinstating her daughter's phone privileges sooner, she still wants to ban her from TikTok. "I get how important such phones and apps are now to teens' social lives, but I really can't let something like that go unaddressed," she wrote. In the end, the OP offered an update noting that she'd focus on "getting her to realize wrongs and make amends."

How Parents Should Handle Social Media "Pranks"

Sadly, the situation serves to highlight a trend that parents might need to confront should a child be the perpetrator or victim of a similar social media prank. "Social media pranks and harassment happen to kids way more often than we'd like," says Melanie Pearl, a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist in Ridgefield, Connecticut. "The 'offenders' I see who have pulled pranks like this tend to get caught up in the pull for views, likes, and follows, and the status they believe they'll achieve among both physical and online peers."

Preventing Incidents

It does bear noting that teens' brains aren't fully developed, so they have a harder time than adults considering potential consequences of their actions and other perspectives besides their own, says Pearl. "They may not bother to even consider the possible effect of the prank on the victim, focusing instead on bolstering their own online reputation," she notes.

She advises parents do their best to preempt situations like this by discussing appropriate behaviors, boundaries, and escape plans should a child feel uncomfortable with certain forms of e-communication, like group texts.

"Then, as the parent considers allowing social media access, the conversation needs to evolve to include the purpose of social media, the benefits and drawbacks, and the parents' expectations for how the teen will engage online," says Pearl. "Conversations around consent should be happening consistently as well—with an emphasis that filming someone without their knowledge is a violation of their consent."

If Your Child Is the Perpetrator of a Prank...

If you find yourself in a situation like the Reddit OP, Pearl says there is a certain degree of natural consequence that will likely dissuade the teen from repeating the behavior. "Having posts reported, accounts frozen, losing the respect of some peers, losing follows, critical comments, etc., will hopefully communicate the message that the behavior depicted in the prank isn't acceptable," she notes.

You can also limit their access to technology and social media, she says, as that punishment logically follows from the offense. And ideally, they'll offer a heartfelt apology to the victim and make an effort to heal the wound they inflicted. That said, it's important to bear in mind that teens can't be forced to apologize and mean it.

If Your Child Is a Victim of a Prank...

If your child has been targeted by a hurtful social media prank, Pearl recommends validating their feelings and accepting all the emotions they are putting out there—be that sadness, anger, embarrassment, desire for retaliation, etc.

A few more smart moves she suggests to parents:

  • Communicate that it isn't their fault that they were victimized.
  • Make sure they have access to their safety net of friends, family, preferred activities, healthy foods, sleep, and physical activity.
  • Discourage your child from repeatedly viewing the prank.
  • If possible, participate in trying to control the dissemination of the offending content, maybe by reporting it, warning school administrators that such a prank is circulating, and working directly to have the specific content related to your child deleted.
  • Help the child understand that this incident, though seemingly large and painful at the moment, doesn't define who they are.

While incidents like the one described by the Redditor are tragic for everyone involved, parents would do well to keep an eye on a child who has been the victim of a social media prank. Pearl says that in order to recover, they'll benefit from having a good support system in place, and parents should watch for any red flags of longer-term impact.

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