Teen girls are finding new TikTok followers in this alarming way

Girl texting on smartphone at home
Girl texting on smartphone at home Photo: Getty Images

It's an unfortunate truth in our society as it stands today, that a teenager will measure their own popularity by the number of social media followers they have.

Or, if not, it will be done for them by their peers.

So it naturally follows that kids will take some unusual measures in order to boost their follower count. That's where this latest cautionary tale comes in. 

It seems some teenage girls in the US thought it was a clever marketing strategy to print out their social media details, and drop these slips of paper indiscriminately into pants, pockets, shoes and underwear packages in menswear stores. 

It's become an alarming trend, and you can be sure if it's happening in the US, someone in Australia has already copied it.

One young woman in the US liked the idea so much, she filmed it and shared it on TikTok, with the caption "How to get a boyfriend". And the hashtags #dicks and #desperate. 

And, look, we've all been there – but I don't mind sounding like a middle-aged mum here when I say there are better, and safer, ways of meeting men. And of showing ourselves the love we deserve. 

Giving out your contact details randomly to dudes you haven't even laid eyes on, while also telling them you're "desperate" is unnecessarily placing yourself in harm's way.

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Let me be clear: this is not about slut-shaming or victim blaming. I firmly believe in women's right to do what they want with their bodies. But this is about exercising sense – which becomes more common, the older you get — and not placing yourself in harm's way.

High-risk behaviour

Bondi psychotherapist Julie Sweet says only the girls in question can really answer why they thought this way of marketing themselves to the masses was a good idea.

"Whatever the thought process behind this concerning trend, it's important to remember the teen brain isn't fully developed until approximately 25 years of age," she says. "So it makes sense that teenagers fare well when surrounded by trustworthy, secure functioning, safe adults. They're dependent upon it."

But Sweet says the behaviour is high-risk, in her clinical opinion.

"Often our digital footprint is overlooked and this can lead to careless, dangerous choices made online," she says. 

"Social media can be a tool used by people posing as individuals they quite simply are not. So the platform can illicit duplicity, covert behaviour from individuals pretending to be peers, friends, or potential love interests within the same cohort. 

"What can blindside teens is this may cause them to become susceptible to being targeted, victims of grooming, flooded with inappropriate contact by strangers, recipients of predatory actions, unknowingly in danger."

Advice for parents

Sweet says as parents we can take protective action to help minimise our children's risk by fostering a close, connected relationship. 

"Open, clear communication is imperative," she says. "Parents modelling transparent, congruent behaviour is an enriching foundation for a child. Encouragement around honesty, and not secrecy, is fundamental."

She also says that cyber safety can stand parents in good stead to keep kids safe by, for instance, purchasing software and installing protected technology on their children's devices. 

"All, again, done openly with their teens' knowledge and awareness, with collaboration," she says.

"Parents can also follow experts in the industry who give tips on this topic, such as The Cyber Safety Lady and the Daniel Morcombe Foundation. 

"And finally, parents can seek professional support through a therapist, or attend group therapy and obtain insight from a qualified therapist and facilitator.Therapy can provide parents with strategies, clarity, tools and knowledge that can enable parents to create connection, maintain communication and establish boundaries." 

And as for the idea that men should be expected to act appropriately, rather than the girls having to carry that burden, Sweet says that while she understands and respects that position, it's important to avoid a polarising, or 'black and white' mentality on the issue. 

"The power differential between a teenager and an older person is unquestionable, therefore there is no doubt that adults are responsible for their actions and must take ownership for their own behaviour," she says. 

She adds that the goal here is for teenage girls to be empowered and to develop their self-awareness, to increase their self-esteem, and to have a strong sense of self. 

"Self-love and self-worth are critical, and can attune young people to look within for what they may be seeking externally, becoming an anchor to their selves through self-evaluation and continued self-reflective practice and mindfulness. 

"Simply put, accepting themselves for who they are."