By Larry Magid
When you think about TikTok, it’s easy to conjure up images of young teens lip-synching and horsing around in short videos they share with their peers. And while teens do make up about a quarter of TikTok’s estimated 100 million active users in the United States, 64% are between 20 and 55 and 11% are over 50. That group of over-50s represents more than 11 million Americans, which is more than the combined population of New York City and Chicago. And just as teens use TikTok to share videos on a wide array of topics beyond what stereotypes suggest, so do the app’s many senior citizens. There are plenty of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, including some who post from their assisted-living homes.
Because of the growth in older users on TikTok, the non-profit I lead — ConnectSafely — has published a Senior’s Guide to TikTok. You’ll find a link at ConnectSafely.org/Seniors, along with a link to our Senior’s Guide to Online Safety.
As we say in our guide, “Seniors like TikTok for some of the same reasons as teens. It’s fun and entertaining.” For those who post videos, it’s a way to express themselves on a wide variety of topics from food to fitness, health care, pets, relationships, home repair, humor, fashion, politics and whatever else interests them.
I’m among those 11 million users over 50 and, though I don’t spend as much time on TikTok as I do on Facebook, I enjoy looking at short videos that range from 15 seconds to a maximum of three minutes, though most are much shorter. Blogger Dan Slee wrote that he watched the 100 best TikTok videos and concluded that the optimum length of a TikTok video is 16 seconds. That doesn’t surprise me. Young people aren’t the only ones with lower attention spans. When I watch videos on YouTube, I frequently bale out after about 20 seconds unless I’m really interested in the content, and even then, I’m annoyed if the creator takes too long to get to the point.
Although I’ve created a few TikTok videos, I mostly just watch, and I’m not alone. While TikTok can be a place to express yourself, a lot of people use it as a form of entertainment or to learn something from others. If you’re new to this or any other service, it makes sense to start out by watching and contribute content later if the spirit moves you.
Notable senior Tikok users
There are seniors on TikTok from nearly all walks of life, like 68-year-old actor Mandy Patinkin (@mandypatinktok) and 87-year-old Jenny Krupa, (@its_j_dog) who has amassed nearly 2 million followers with her sometimes funny and sometimes poignant or sad and often irreverent short videos. I won’t tell you the age of Joe Allington, but you can calculate it from the last 4 digits of his username, @grandadjoe1933. He started posting to TikTok at the beginning of the pandemic, and his first video, urging people to “please consider others and not bulk buy,” has gotten tens of millions of views. Many of his videos are funny, but I was brought to tears by his video about his “one true love,” who he was with for 20 years until “she woke up in the middle of the night and rested her head on my pillow and passed away.” The on-screen text was emotional enough, but the music and the photographs made it even more poignant. Barbara Costello (72) posts cooking tips, dances with her husband and serves up homespun philosophy under the username @brunchwithbabs.
Other seniors use TikTok to document their struggles with health or memory or how they are staying fit.
Like most TikTok users, the vast majority of seniors aren’t “influencers” with thousands or millions of followers. And that’s OK. Many use it just to watch videos and others use it mostly to exchange videos and keep in touch with family members and close friends, including adult children and, of course, grandchildren. It’s a great way to bridge the generation gap in your extended family. I’m sure there are plenty of families where the grandparents and grandchildren are exchanging videos on TikTok without participation from the generation in the middle. I’ve heard from teens who consider their grandparents to be a lot more “dope” (i.e. “cool”) than their parents.
Getting on TikTok and staying safe
To post videos, you’ll need to download the TikTok app from the Apple App Store or Google Play and sign up for a free account. But you can watch videos on the web at TikTok.com without needing an account. It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with what TikTok has to offer on either a mobile device or a computer with a bigger screen and a physical keyboard.
Everyone, including seniors, needs to think about privacy, reputation, comfort level and safety on all social media. TikTok prohibits violent extremism, hateful behavior, illegal activities, violent and graphic content, harassment, bullying, nudity and sexual activity. Not all videos are for everyone, so if you see something you don’t like, just move on. If you post and want to limit your audience, consider setting up a private profile where only people you authorize can follow you. Be careful about your background to make sure you’re not accidentally disclosing your location or other private information. As always, be kind and considerate of others and don’t include people in your videos without their permission. To enforce its rules, TikTok uses a combination of policies and human- and machine-based moderation practices to handle content that may violate its guidelines. Visit ConnectSafely.org/Tiktok for links to both a guide and shorter Quick-Guide on TikTok. They’re aimed at parents, but the advice can apply to users of any age.