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What Teens and TikTok Taught Me

By Carissa Salazar

When you Google, “teenagers and pop culture” articles of how pop culture affects teens will pop up, painting the relationship between the two to be complicated and often dangerous. While this fuels a lot of concern for parents I can’t help but think that the relationship also goes the other way around. Have we ever stopped to think about how teens affect our current culture?

As a 20-something-year-old I held off on downloading TikTok for years thinking its dance and lip-sync origins to be a little childish for my tastes. However, like most social media platforms, TikTok grew and developed and branched out to be a hub of almost anything. From funny videos to mini vlogs, to insightful information, TikTok arguably has it all, as well as the power to eclipse Instagram, its older sibling (if it hasn’t already). If you ask any teen if they have a TikTok, they will most likely say yes, and if you go on their TikTok pages they are probably dancing to the newest trends and hit songs.

While I’m still not dancing or singing, I downloaded TikTok because I started seeing a lot of cool cinematic videos. Teens running out into the fields while a spacey indie song plays in the background or late night debauchery that holds feelings that only exist until a certain age, these videos reminded me of Tumblr (my generation’s social hub) and it dawned on me that this is theirs.

(This is the video that made me make a TikTok account)

I don’t think we give them credit enough, but teens are one of the most creative and powerful age groups out there. When you think about the “why” it makes sense that they would be: your feelings feel bigger when you are younger, and what’s the best way to capture that than through storytelling?

TikTok in itself as an application has a slight learning curve, but once you get the hang of it you can make a lot of different videos. I think the best feature on TikTok is the ability to auto-sync your clips to the beat or melody of your song of choice. This cuts back a lot of edit time compared to using an application like iMovie or Premiere, which not a lot of people may have access to. With editing being easy as 1-2-3, a lot of teens have made amazing art on TikTok capturing their emotions in under a minute, like this video of a kid reflecting why college wasn’t for them.

In my opinion, TikTok is an art medium that needs to be looked at as one. We’ve moved from photo to video thanks to Gen Z and having a smartphone is the most accessible way to express yourself.

Beyond niche cinematic story-telling, teenagers hold culture in the palm of their hands. They dictate what songs are “cool” and what’s “in.” While this week might have been covers of Backyardigans’ “Castaway” song, who knows what will be in store for us next month. Teens will continue to create trends and everyone will follow. And the biggest teen right now? A girl who is unafraid to be a teen with feelings.

Olivia Rodrigo captured us in a way we can’t escape her influence. Driver’s License was so catchy, and also so damn relatable? (We also have to give credit to the creator of this Driver’s License trend where you transition yourself from crying to looking like a goddess, only achievable with your phone duck-taped onto your ceiling, of course. TikTok is literally an art medium, people!)

With the release of her debut album, Olivia gave the people of the internet everything she had, and in return gained a ton of off-target adult supporters. No matter how old you are or how happy of a relationship you might be in, you will be belting an Olivia Rodrigo song at the top of your lungs, because it is that good. There’s something about teenage art that portrays unadulterated feelings and rawness that takes you back to the most awful of teenage heartbreaks you might have felt. While we adults might look back and laugh at how we thought the world was ending, Olivia reminds us that no matter how young she may be, her teenage feelings are more than valid and so were yours.

Here are some videos of Olivia bringing together all demographics:

To be young is to be free in your emotions and whoever you think you are then. I feel like as adults we can learn a lot from TikTok teens, I mean, aren’t we already? There’s nothing embarrassing about liking things that Gen Z makes because I feel Gen Z really opened my eyes to how art is evolving. They’re making art every day, and it’s so much information and imagery that shapeshifts into a kaleidoscope of possibilities. I can’t help but feel excited every time I open the app, because it doesn’t get redundant.

I’ve been making videos on TikTok for a month now, and I’m inspired by the things I’ve seen kids do. I think we have a lot of future cinematographers, dancers, writers, painters, photographers, etc. on the application. And if you’ve ever made a TikTok video, I think it’s fair to call you someone creative.

A couple of TikToks I’ve made (and yes, one is to an Olivia Rodrigo Song):


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