I hated TikTok when it first came out. My kids were glued to it constantly, and it annoyed me. I didn’t think any of the videos were funny. And there was absolutely no way I was going to download the app to my phone.
Then my daughter told me about some beauty hacks she wanted to try with me. It piqued my interest, but I figured I could go without. Until one night, when she was at her dad’s house and sent me a text: Can you download TikTok on your phone? I want to send you these videos. And I realized that I was missing a golden opportunity to connect with my teenage daughter, who (in the classic way of teenagers) doesn’t want much to do with me.
She sent me a few videos, and I was pleasantly surprised. I laughed so hard at a dog playing with some ducks and I was amazed by a viral L’Oreal face powder that I knew nothing about. That was over a year ago. Watching TikTok videos has since turned into a great way to bond with my teenagers.
My daughter loves sending me animal videos, beauty hacks, Shein hauls, and recipes. We’ve tried lots of the recipes, and she always wants to help. TikTok has gifted us many great meals and snacks — but more importantly the gift of time together in the kitchen.
We’ve also tried out a lot of makeup and hair hacks, tutorials, and products together. A few times a month we make our list of what we want to try and head to the beauty supply store, which is another way to spend more time with her.
My two sons got on board too, as soon as they heard I downloaded the app. Their videos are a bit different. They like to send me funny mom videos that remind them of me, and there are some hysterical ones of teenage boys acting like their mothers — which are disturbingly close to how I act.
It’s also how they let me know there’s a product out there they’d like to have. Like the time my oldest sent me a very satisfying video of a guy washing his car with a power washer. (Yes, I bought it for him.)
My sons also do things like send TikToks with hacks to make my life easier. My favorite was one where a guy was showing you how to use Dawn dish soap or hand sanitizer on your windshield to keep it from icing over during the winter. This is my son's way of showing me he really does care, and I'm not just an annoyance in his life. He wants me to be safe on the road. As soon as I got the soap home, he got my car all soaped up for me.
These videos get sent to my phone all day long. Between the three of them, I probably get ten notifications a day. I don’t open them until they say, “Mom, did you want to watch TikToks?” Then we sit on the sofa and watch a big batch together.
Not only has this made me feel closer to them because we share laughs and spend extra time together, it has helped me get to know my teens better. It’s a look into their world. If I hadn’t downloaded the app, I wouldn’t get to be included in their lives this way. It also makes them happy, because they feel like I’m taking an interest in their life. Watching TikToks can make us parents feel like we are on a completely different planet but honestly, it's really nice to visit that planet with your teens every once in a while.
There are times when our teens don’t talk much. Sitting with them, watching something together always brings us closer though. Even if it’s something as short as a TikTok video.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too money online and drinking Coke Zero.