Manurewa Intermediate School deputy principal Thomas Bartlett told EducationHQ he had to confront some students who were not coming to school because they were creating TikTok videos at home.

TikTok is the fastest-growing social media app in the world, with a large percentage of its users in their teens or early 20s. The Chinese short-form video app allows users to create and share short videos with special effects and music.

The Auckland school has found a number of its students using TikTok, despite the app requiring users to be at least 13 years old to access the platform.

And Bartlett says it’s a major problem and distraction.

Situated in a low socioeconomic area, Bartlett says the school values attendance very highly, and that it’s crucial students are attending classes.

“We have one of the highest attendance rates in New Zealand schools … around 94 per cent.

“But when students start missing school because of the app, that's when we notice it’s becoming a problem,” Bartlett says.

“I found out through other students who showed me after school that students who weren’t coming to school were posting videos on TikTok at home.”

Bartlett says the kids are at a vulnerable age where they can easily get influenced by others on social media.

“The kids just don't want to be left out and that's what they've told me.

“They say 'I felt like all my mates had it and I didn't. So I just wanted to have a profile myself, too.’”

As well as compelling students to skip school, the popular app also opens up the potential for cyber bullying and harassment online.

Bartlett says one female student missed a whole week of school because she was bullied on social media.

Earlier this year, a BBC investigation found the social media app failed to suspend the accounts of people sending explicit messages to children.

The app was also under fire following an investigation over its handling of children’s privacy data.

In order to inform parents and the wider community about the potential risks and dangers of the app, Bartlett says the school hosts regular whānau evenings and posts updates in the school newsletter and on their Facebook page.

“As parents we can equip ourselves with social media literacy to protect our children from risks associated with any new app,” the school newsletter reads.

The school also implements a mobile phone ban where students hand in their devices at the start of each day.

It's unlikely the app could be used for educational purposes, Bartlett says.

“I could see how a school could have a profile or something like that and try and use it as a vehicle to get kids to school and communicate with students.

“But you would need to have a dedicated person to look after that at the school and they would have to have [very specific] knowledge.”

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