While it’s not quite surprising that a TikTok challenge is at the center of controversy, it may surprise many that parents, not teens, are under fire this time. This month, the “New Teacher Challenge” went viral as parents jokingly introduced their kids to their “new teachers.” However, the challenge is going viral again after a motivational speaker and activist explained why this prank — focusing on a fake FaceTime call with a child’s new instructor — is problematic.
In the videos, parents trick kids into thinking they are on a FaceTime call with their teacher for the new school year. Instead of their actual teacher, the parents use a picture of whoever they want. The “crazier” the photo, the bigger reaction they anticipate from their young ones.
Many parents opted to use photos of public figures like President Donald Trump or Joe Exotic of Tiger King fame. Others went for random, wild-looking mugshots they found on the internet. An example of a typical video looks like this:
Behind the Challenge’s Controversy
However, parents are also participating in the challenge with photos of individuals with physical deformities or disabilities in order to really “shock” their children. When the challenge first took off, one teacher called it “cruel,” saying that it enforced the idea of kids judging others on the basis of their looks.
Lizzie Velasquez, an activist who fights against cyberbullying, agrees.
Velasquez was born with a rare congenital disease which prevents her from gaining weight and body fat. She’s faced years of bullying and harassment for her physical appearance, even being the target of a YouTube video that called her the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” Velasquez battled against online hate, creating her own platform to educate others about cyberbullying.
Through Instagram, Velasquez shared a TikTok using her photo and wrote that she knew it was only a matter of time until she saw her picture being used as a “new teacher.” She acknowledged that while some TikToks were cute and funny, many use photos of those with physical deformities caused by health conditions.
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I knew this was coming. When I saw this trend start I knew it was coming. Some have been cute and funny but then it starts to cross the line. Showing your kids a photo of someone who looks different in hopes of them having a scared reaction is vile. I’ve seen this trend be done with people who are disabled and I’ve seen this trend be done with BABIES who have Down Syndrome. They don’t have the platform to speak on this but I do and I know I have an army of positive people right next to me. I will say this over and over and over. The people you put in photos or videos are human beings!! We have feelings and we have something we work on everyday called self confidence. Please PLEASE don’t teach your children that it’s funny to be afraid of someone who doesn’t look like them. When adults are upset their kids are being bullied, this is the perfect example that teaching kindness and acceptance starts AT HOME. Just be kind to one another. We need it now more than ever!!
A Reminder for Kindness
In Velasquez’s posts, she refers to the new teacher challenge as the “Facetime Prank,” which is another name often attached to the TikTok challenge.
“The people you put in photos or videos are human beings!” she wrote in her caption. “We have feelings and we have something we work on every day called self confidence. Please PLEASE don’t teach your children that it’s funny to be afraid of someone who doesn’t look like them. When adults are upset their kids are being bullied, this is the perfect example that teaching kindness and acceptance starts AT HOME.”
Velasquez also uploaded her own TikTok to criticize the viral challenge. She emphasized that using photos of people with physical differences, like hers, shouldn’t be a joke. She urged TikTok users not to teach kids around them to be scared of someone who looks different from them.
The motivational speaker hopes that people will reconsider participating in the challenge and choose to teach their young ones important lessons on empathy and kindness instead.