New Britain High School students: Counter the dangers of TikTok and others platforms with a class on negotiating social media wisely

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Educating teenagers about navigating social media and its risk is one way schools could address misconduct fueled by TikTok challenges, several New Britain High School students suggested Thursday.

The school — along with others in various states around the country — was hit by a wave of vandalism last month driven by to so-called Devious Licks Challenge on Facebook.

At a forum with Sen. Richard Blumenthal and state Attorney General William Tong, several students said young children — even in elementary school — should get lessons in the risks of Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and more.

And by the high school level, there should be a course specifically on that, senior Bryan Ortiz said.

“Will the board of education get together to get a class to make better and smarter consumers — how to basically navigate social media in a better way?,” he asked school administrators at the session.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Foran replied that the 10 students who had gathered for the panel could start off almost immediately by founding an after-school activity.

“Find a group of students, find an advisor — there’s money for after-school programs as you know. That’s something you can do tomorrow, next week,” Foran replied.

Superintendent Nancy Sarra said it’s too late to begin a full-scale course this year, but added that educators would be open to crafting one for next year.

Senior Fah’sha Goffe suggested that one part of either a class or after-school group should be The Social Dilemma, a 2020 docudrama about the risks of social networking. Part of its focus was on how social media users can wind up being manipulated without ever realizing it.

“It was saying that if you’re not selling the product, you are the product. Anyone in this room can benefit from watching that movie. It was something that opened my eyes tremendously,” she said.

Senior Maks Chojnowski said he supports some form of social media training, and recommended it start by late elementary school or early middle school grades.

Blumenthal called social media corporations the Big Tobacco of this generation, targeting young children with advertising designed to form lifelong — and risky — behaviors. Blumenthal chairs a Senate subcommittee looking into how social media corporations profit from young users letting various platforms influence or even dominate their thinking and activities.

“It used to be when I was in school if somebody was bullied, at least they could go home and escape. Now the bullying follows them into their home,” he said. “There’s no respite, no refuge.”

Blumenthal and Tong emphasized that New Britain High School is far from alone in facing vandalism and student misbehavior this year.

“This is happening everywhere. I think frankly we are courageous as a community stepping forward and talking about it, confronting it,” Tong said. “The Devious Lick challenge resulted in damages right here.”

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