“I’m lucky to have a fun dad at home who can help me make TikTok videos.” Eli, 13, US.
Dads are officially the new secret to going viral on TikTok. As young people spend their time with their families at home, they are influencing older generations in how they are spending their time during COVID-19 isolation periods.
This 52INSIGHTS explores these cultural developments in intergenerational connection, and how youth are steering online behaviours in the COVID-19 landscape.
TIKTOK DADS & THE ‘BLINDING LIGHTS’ CHALLENGE
Young people are using time at home during the COVID-19 ‘lock in’ to get creative with online content. Through TikTok challenges, pranks and memes, it is the younger generations that are leading the provision of light relief - and also leading the family activity schedule. Just a few short weeks ago, TikTok feeds would have been predominantly filled with teens. Now TikTok is reporting older demographics now entering what was, only a few short weeks ago, predominantly a teen hangout zone. This is an interesting new dynamic emerging.
Mums, dads, siblings and extended family members have become the stars of TikTok and Instagram videos. With this, some ‘TikTok dads’ have gone on to become viral stars. A brilliant example of this is ‘Papa McFarland’ who appeared on the @the.mcfarlands TikTok account (over 900k followers) doing the ‘Blinding Lights’ dance challenge with his two grown-up sons. It’s a challenge that sees a group of people perform the same dance moves to music by ‘The Weeknd’. “Dad - people need you!” says one of the sons dramatically at the beginning of the video clip. McFarland (senior) is full of smiles and enthusiasm and is lifted overhead by his two sons at the end of the clip - which is currently at over 11.2million views.
The ‘Blinding Lights’ challenge has inspired hundreds of thousands groups and families co-isolating together to give it a whirl themselves. Tadgh Fleming - a young Irish Tik Tok star with over 1.3 million followers, went viral for showing all the hilarious behind the scenes footage of his parents and siblings trying to learn the dance and get it right. This has shown that including parents or older generations in content on ‘youth’ channels has its pay-offs when it comes to engagement - ‘Shauna The Sheep’ currently has over 350k followers on TikTok, and also includes her Dad in some of her content, to great reception:
“The reason why I include my Dad in my TikTok content is because everyone loves to have a laugh at my Dad. I’ve always got good engagement when I uploaded him - over what I’d usually get. Everyone loves a typical Irish Dad… I also love seeing people bringing their families onto Tik Tok and having fun together with making videos. Definitely some of the best content you can make is with your family. It’s just so entertaining and watching older people get involved in this and be so open to it.” Shauna, 18
As Time Magazine puts it: “Some believe that the most qualified leaders of movements are the reluctant ones. And, most certainly, it’s usually the most reluctant ones who have the best moves.” Parents being ‘good sports’ and delivering surprising performances on the internet is the content we all need right now.
Youth are not only driving the indoor social media action - they are also influencing how families are getting creative with a variety of offline activities. From baking to gardening, DIY to reading or jigsawing, there’s a resurgence in ‘traditional’ pastimes - whether it’s for a creative homework assignment or just for something to try out or experiment with.
“I've started bonding with my parents more, my mom especially. She's started teaching me how to cook and bake, and she's been encouraging me to find recipes that I'd like to try out. So far, she's taught me how to bake banana bread, and she let me help prepare dinner! ...I'm a little regretful that I didn't start cooking with my mom earlier in my life. So if there's anything this self-isolation has taught me so far, it's this: It's never too late to bond with family and awaken new interests. I can only hope that I'll be able to cook and bake with my mom for years to come. ” Grace, 16, New Jersey.
This discovery of domestic pastimes is actually driving new conversations and ways of staying in touch too:
“My friend is a chef and he’s been baking at home and delivering desserts to friends who are close by when he’s done. It’s such a lovely way to spend time and people really appreciate it! I see so many people updating each other on their sourdough starters and banana bread baking in WhatsApp groups too. I’ve never heard so much about flour and active yeast before. People are actually giving out baking advice - a real change from what we normally talk about!” Laura, 29, Ireland.
All of this activity is translating digitally - whether people are searching for inspiration or reporting on the results of their efforts. Compared with the first half of the month, this week twice as many people tweeted about cooking/baking, with around 500K tweets per day, according to Twitter. In addition to an increase in streams of "chill" music, a spike in news podcast listeners and a jump in playlist sharing, Spotify have reported that there’s been an increase in cooking and housework themed playlists;
“...showing that people are primarily focusing on family and domestic tasks instead of music intended for get-togethers. Self-improvement podcasts (think wellness, meditation) are seeing an uptick as well."
Sites like Pinterest have reported higher usage too, ‘especially among people who are looking for topics to help them cope with the pandemic’. Searches for "indoor activities with kids,” for example, surged 1,300% in the U.S. from two weeks previous. As a result Pinterest has introduced updates for retailers on the platform, to help see more about its effect on site visits.
These times call for wholesome content. Amidst the grief and uncertainty, TikTok is showing us all that it’s perfectly alright to intentionally seek joy. Joy does not have to be something separate from this crisis.
With this, the ‘group challenge’ is gaining huge momentum, showing how this moment of ‘pause’ from normal life is connecting generations in new, healthy, ways. It’s also indicated that traditionally youth-led channels like TikTok are starting to diversify. There is more communication (and real bonding) happening between different age cohorts and this is having a real impact on behaviours. Is there something creative you could inspire that encourages people to collaborate (either online or with their co-isolation crew) and inspire positive connection?
The increase in intergenerational socialising is removing the ‘cringe’ stigma of having fun with your parents or grandparents. Because teens don’t have a choice in who they spend their time with, family challenges and opportunities for intergenerational ‘game play’ is only going in one direction - up. And it’s fun. How could you encourage or celebrate these intergenerational bonds that are strengthening?
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