TikTok Teens Follow New Stars: Senior Citizens | #dating | #elderly | #seniors
Stephen Austin, 82, became a TikTok star earlier this year after he filmed a video of himself cooking at his senior living home near Fort Worth, Texas.
Mr. Austin, known for his colorful bucket hats, recorded himself in February making scrambled eggs and toast. The “Cooking with Steve” series now has millions of views.
“The young people want me to be their grandpa,” said Mr. Austin, who produces daily videos for his 1.4 million followers under the username @omsteve, short for “Old Man Steve.” Recent videos feature him performing magic tricks and dancing to the latest pop songs. He also browses the internet and buys random trinkets, such as a decorative metal ladybug and a toy banana, to unbox and show his followers in minute-long videos.
Seniors are finding that their efforts on a social-media app usually associated with young people can help bring joy and combat loneliness during a time when human connection is limited. They’re building relationships with people decades younger in videos about planking and haircuts.
Lexi Talbert, 17, follows Mr. Austin’s TikTok account and enjoys videos of him talking about his collection of novelty lunchboxes, including one that displays a Ouija board and another that features Curious George.
“His laugh, his jokes, the way he says his expressions, it reminds me of my grandpa,” said Ms. Talbert, whose grandfather passed away three years ago. “It gives me a lot of comfort to know that’s on TikTok and something I can just go to.”
People over the age of 55 represent about 4% of TikTok’s 98 million U.S.-based users, according to social-media management company Hootsuite. It says the largest age group on TikTok is 18-to-24-year-olds, who make up 42% of users, followed by 13-to-17-year-olds, who make up 27%.
TikTok declined to comment on the demographics of its users. TikTok’s Director of Creator Community Kudzi Chikumbu said “TikTok is a place for everyone—from Gen Z to grandparents going viral—and it’s inspiring to see different generations connecting.”
The app is owned by ByteDance Ltd., a conglomerate in China. The Trump administration has said the app’s ties to China could pose a security risk, and has pressured the company to divest itself of its U.S. operations by selling to an American company. Discussions for that deal are ongoing; TikTok and its parent company have sued the Trump administration.
German fitness enthusiast Erika Rischko, 80, gained a following on TikTok by posting videos of her practicing plank exercises and performing dance routines with her husband, Dieter, 81.
Her account, @erikarischko, has more than 81,000 followers. In one video, she is planking to the beat of the song, “Savage Love,” by 31-year-old pop singer Jason Derulo. “Omg this is inspiring,” Mr. Derulo said in a comment, adding blue heart and flexed-arm emojis.
Ms. Rischko, who has had several surgeries and can still hold a plank for 8 minutes, said she is honored to be an inspiration to younger generations. “Sometimes, these days, older generations, they miss that kind of respect,” Ms. Rischko said.
Connecticut resident Lillian Droniak, 90, sometimes receives critical comments on her videos, which feature her dancing, giving life advice and discussing her day. In some comments that she found particularly offensive, people asked why she didn’t have a boyfriend or husband.
“Maybe they’re just jealous,” said Ms. Droniak, who recently garnered 17 million views on a 10-second video she posted about her new haircut.
She said she tries to ignore rude comments and focus on the happiness she feels from connecting with younger generations.
Algie Powers, 67, of Salt Lake City, records herself playing guitar and singing harmonies others can sing along with. She was hurt when she saw a young girl post a video that appeared to be making fun of her; the girl was singing gibberish to the tune of one of Ms. Powers’s songs. Ms. Powers commented on the post with a sad-face emoji.
The girl responded in a direct message with a paragraph-long explanation, saying the point of her video was that she didn’t know how to sing as well as Ms. Powers.
“I’m so glad I asked, and that was very sweet,” Ms. Powers said. “There was a misunderstanding.”
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A video of Ms. Powers singing the song “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots gained over a million views and connected her with young people around the world. Comments translated from Russian on the app include “I have never seen grandmothers playing guitar, she is so cute” and “When I become a grandma I will learn to play the guitar and I will be the same!!”
“I’ve learned three Russian words: cool, grandmother and beautiful,” Ms. Powers said.
TikTok and other social-media apps allow users to learn about the perspectives of other generations and demographics, said Donna Davis, an associate professor at the University of Oregon. “There’s really beauty in that discovery,” said Ms. Davis, who studies how online communities form and how they affect relationships. “TikTok is different in that you have generations that are teaching each other and connecting in really fun and creative ways,” she said.
Chan Jae Lee, 78, and Kyong Ja Ahn, 78, began making TikTok videos in Korea as a way to connect with their two teenage grandchildren.
Their daughter, Miru Lee, 45, films the videos while the grandchildren coach their grandparents through popular K-pop and hip-hop dances. Mr. Lee says the dance routines are good exercise.
Acclaimed K-pop group BTS liked a video of the couple and their grandchildren dancing to the group’s recent hit “Dynamite.”
Ms. Ahn says her age can sometimes be a hindrance because she can easily forget the moves and often avoids strenuous techniques. She enjoys learning about younger generations through the app’s commenters, many of whom say they like watching their videos during the pandemic.
“That kind of helps us realize that we’re able to bring fun and enjoyment to people’s lives during this frustrating situation,” Ms. Ahn said.
Still, she has stopped sharing her videos with friends, she said, because many of them thought the videos “were a little weird.”
Lynn Davis, 64, and her 23-year-old son, Tim, in New Jersey, work together to make cooking videos on TikTok under their account @cookingwithlynja, which has garnered 2.3 million followers.
They spend as many as 15 hours a day creating videos, one of which features a recipe for peanut butter-infused Sriracha ramen. In another, they made a “patriotic” blueberry, strawberry and vanilla milkshake and Ms. Davis urged her followers to vote on Election Day. Many responded that they weren’t old enough to vote.
Older TikTok stars, such as Ms. Droniak, the 90-year-old known for her life advice and dancing, say they have been reinvigorated by the presence they have gained on the social-media app.
“I never thought I’d be doing what I’m doing,” Ms. Droniak said. “I feel like I’m 65.”
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