GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Chelsea Wiersema has seen the impact apps like TikTok can have on children.

“There was a fifth grade girl who had a TikTok made about her by a peer at school, saying that nobody likes her, encouraging her to self-harm, and the girl didn’t even have a phone,” Wiersema, the owner of Human Kind Counseling in Grandville, said.

She said it was the girl’s sister who shared it with their parents.

“She never got a break from it outside of school because it circulated to everyone on social media,” Wiersema said.

Wiersema encourages the children who visit her office to share any issues they encounter with their parents and to be open to talking to teachers at school about how they can feel safe and welcome.

Parents can also alert their student’s principal if something is happening outside of school. Wiersema acknowledged that school administrators are in a tricky place when it comes to handling these situations but she believes they bear some responsibility.

“I think they definitely need to have a conversation with the kids at school, pull in the social worker, pull the teachers and the students, but I think the parents also have a responsibility of monitoring what their kids are posting,” Wiersema said.

Even if a child isn’t the perpetrator of a bullying or inappropriate post, Wiersema said things like sharing, liking or commenting on those posts makes them complicit.

“Don’t share it or like it, send it to an adult and show it to your parents so that you’re helping be part of the solution, not the problem,” Wiersema said she tells her clients.

TikTok features trending hashtags and challenges that often go viral. While many have led to consequences at school or home for the users who post them, others go beyond that and become dangerous. Wiersema has seen challenges that encourage users to see how long they can go without breathing.

“That has led to significant harm and even death. In some cases, lighting yourself on fire, ingesting certain things, it’s challenges like this that are putting societal pressure on kids to fit in or be cool — get three minutes of fame — but it has fatal consequences, lifelong consequences,” Wiersema said.

Wiersema said parents should be responsible for what their children have access to and should help them weed out what is appropriate and what is not.

“Tell them your expectations, set boundaries of when they can be on social media and ask, ‘How harmful is this going to be to someone if they see that you’re liking it or commenting on it?'” she said.

It’s difficult to take breaks from technology, since it is embedded in our everyday lives, but research shows how important those breaks can be.

Failing to take breaks can lead to technology addiction, which Wiersema said is physically changing our children’s brains. She said to look for signs of that addiction, which include a child withdrawing to their room on their phone or other screen, not joining for family conversations or dinners, and screaming or throwing a tantrum when a parent tries to take that technology away.

“They are just so used to being attached to the screen that they’re anxious and feel like they’re withdrawing from a substance even, which is why it’s important to try and (set boundaries) at the start of giving your kid a phone or tablet. But it’s never too late to go back and have those conversations,” she said.

There is no perfect parenting handbook, so Wiersema recommends anyone looking for help to consult with a professional for the best way to have these conversations. She referenced Protect Young Eyes as a resource she points parents to and believes even a one-time consult with a mental health professional can be beneficial.