The Adults of Tik Tok Want to Educate and Entertain You

The hot new video sharing app isn’t just teenagers producing memes and miming along to their favorite pop songs

Molly Horan
Sep 18, 2019 · 4 min read
Image: Chris Stokel-Walker

Among the teens creating TikTok videos about the undeniable, bone level differences between freshmen and sophomores, you can find Jenny and Mike Krupa, both 88-years-old, explaining the perks of being octogenarians.

Though the senior citizens’ account (@its_j_dog) is run and scripted by their 19-year-old grandson Skylar (“I knew people really enjoyed watching elderly individuals on social media,” he says), the couple is far from the only people over 21 on this platform often thought of as a strictly Gen Z space. Users in their late 20s, 30s, and beyond are using TikTok just like the kids do, to explain their lives with the help of memeable music clips. But while teens use the app to reenact their lives spent in high school halls, older users see the platform as a place to explain and explore their jobs.

Adults — possibly even old enough that they wouldn’t think to use “adulting” to describe their jobs or their content — are creating videos that bring their fans into the world of medicine (doctors, nurses, and plenty of paramedics are showing off their stethoscopes), firefighting, teaching, and even zoology. While their videos often poke fun at the more mundane (or absurd) details of their days just like their teenage counterparts, some have used the platform to create more educational content.

In recent videos on her channel, 29-year-old family medical resident @Dr.Leslie has shared statistics about suicide (along with the number for the national hotline) and showcased the “pretty gnarly” chest X-ray of someone suffering from a new disease connected to vaping. Her TikTok channel started as an outlet to capture “the chaotic life of a resident physician.” But a video chock-full of medical facts became her first viral success.

“I was shocked at how popular they became,” she says. “I realized that the teen and young adult population seemed to be yearning for health information that they may not be getting at home or in school.”

Anthony Seller (@tonys_tails_and_scales), a 29-year old reptile educator and wolf advocate who volunteers at Wolf Creek Habitat and ZooPro Adventures in Cincinnati, has also created content about his passion for animals knowing the videos will reach Gen Z users, explaining he sees TikTok as a platform “to reach teens, preteens and young adults to give them more knowledge, in a comical or endearing way.”

Some of TikTok’s older content creators’ careers are tied to short-form comedy, often coming from the late great departed Vine, making similar content for both their original audience and users who were too young to have caught them on the six-second video platform. Thomas Sanders (@thomassanders), a 30-year-old former Vine star and YouTube creator known for his videos focusing on pop culture has over three million fans on TikTok, while 28-year-old former Vine creator Brian Foster (@rextestarosa) has over 200,000.

“I feel like an old man on TikTok,” Foster says. “Gen Z humor honestly isn’t that far off from millennial humor. It all streams from us being like children of the internet. So memes or random nonsense that don’t mean anything but sounds funny is hilarious.” After a little over a year on the platform, he has a good eye for what content resonates on TikTok. “I’ve found the more chaotic a video is, the better it does… and by chaotic I don’t mean like high energy and yelling, I mean more like subverting the expectations of the watcher.”

For Rabindra Ratan, an associate professor in the department of media and information at Michigan State University, TikTok being adopted by older users makes sense and might usher in even wider adoption of the app by adults.

“The tools that TikTok offers might prove valuable for the types of information production, curation and sharing that adults tend to do,” he says. “Remember back when we used to just make friends and poke each other on Facebook? Now it’s a hub for news and shopping that is integrated into the fabric of our internet experience. As our media landscape changes, I can imagine TikTok or a tool like it filling an important need for sharing videos that condense a large amount of important (newsworthy) information into a few easily digestible seconds. It won’t just be merry musical memes.”

Not all of TikTok’s elder guard is interested in showing off their professional life. Theresa Stone (@groovinggranny61), a 58-year-old from Nevada, has been on TikTok for almost a year and has amassed over 280,000 fans posting videos following her picking up her grandson from school and lip-synching to Billie Eilish.

Though you might not think these grandma moments would resonate with what she describes as her fanbase of 90% younger users, she does have an insight into the appeal. “All the kids want me to be their granny,” she says.


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