Perhaps you’ve seen the #bathroomcursingchallenge, #cursingkids, or #cursingchallenge videos on TikTok, and you’ve felt kind of yucky about them, but you can’t pinpoint exactly what’s bothering you. If you’re a Post-Traumatic Parent, you may be disturbed by this kind of content but also disturbingly fascinated by it.
Let’s unpack what’s problematic about this challenge and what’s problematic about most TikTok challenges involving kids.
1) The bathroom may be a safe space—but the internet isn’t.
When a parent is filming their child for the sake of content creation, the focus moves off the child and parenting and onto an algorithm. Children trust their parents—because the number one job of parenting is teaching kids How To Human 101, and part of that is how to handle the world. The child trusts that their parent is teaching them a technique to manage frustration, but the parent is looking for cute content to post.
2) Exploitation and Consent: Confusion of Tongues
At some point, these children will grow up, and they’re going to realize that their innocence was exploited for the sake of some “likes” or “saves” or “shares.” Their sense of trust in their parents is going to be shaken up—because Mommy lied to me. She said this is a safe space, but it isn’t. The internet is the exact opposite of a safe space. This can interfere with the basis of attachment—the first stage of psychosocial development—trust vs. mistrust. (For more on how TikTok challenges can interfere with attachment, click here and here.)
For some of these children, the realization that my parent was my first bully—the first person who mocked me, took advantage of my innocence, and set me up for harm—is going to be devastating.
3) It’s not the “what.” It’s the “why.”
One disturbing video showed a little girl whisper-screaming a violent argument between two adults (there were plenty of pejorative terms of “female” and “male” to make the different parts of the script crystal clear, with threats of violence and murder.) She repeated this dialogue over and over, getting overstimulated as she did so. Even more tragically, this video was apparently filmed at daycare. Scrolling along the bottom of the video were the words “with permission of mom.”
Watching these challenges as a child psychologist, it seems likely that many of these children are reenacting violent and angry confrontations between their parents or other caregivers. If you’ve ever used play in psychotherapy with traumatized children, you’ll see this scripted, rigid quality as children reenact, sometimes word for word, exactly what they’ve seen at home.