Picture an influencer and you’ll probably think of someone who gives away cash on Instagram, wears plastic clothes from Shein and posts performative apology videos from their latest Dubai holiday. The last person who’ll come to mind is somebody’s middle-aged parent.
But – as Hannah Ewens wrote for VICE last year – “the most entertaining people on TikTok are now fully grown adults”. So, with parents becoming the VIPs of the social algorithm, how do their non-famous children feel?
Are they orchestrating their fame behind the scenes or do they cringe every time they see their mum or dad land on their For You page? How does it feel when: “POV: you live under your parent’s influencer shadow and will never amass as much clout as them” describes your actual existence?
I spoke to children of influencers and asked them about their experiences of having internet-famous parents.
‘It’s embarrassing seeing your mum through the lens of someone else’
“My mum has around 30,000 followers on TikTok and posts daily relatable videos, normally around her love of vodka and Diet Coke. She has a very ‘is it Friday yet?’ sense of humour. She started posting a year-and-a-half ago and is really committed, bulk-shooting her content to stay consistent. She even has a ring light and is always thinking about content.
“She’s 45, and I think a big reason for her to be on TikTok is because she never really had an opportunity to explore her identity and passions when she had kids in her twenties. She hasn’t told any of her friends about this account, and I think she’s chosen TikTok because there’s an air of anonymity around it.
“I’m so torn, because half of me is happy to see her do something that makes her happy and just be a bit selfish and have this jobby, but on the flip side, it’s just embarrassing knowing and seeing your mum through the lens of someone else.”
Hannah*, 27, London
‘He’s always explaining to me what the current trends are’
“My dad is not TikTok famous yet, but he’s really trying to be. He’s 50, very funny and is an entrepreneur. He always sends videos or ridiculous pictures of himself in our family group chat. He actually taught me about TikTok and is always explaining to me what the current trends are. I think he’s doing it to try to piss me and my brother off, and because he’s been bored in lockdown.
“He would have 100 percent started, thinking he was going to get thousands of followers, but so far it’s just my family. At some point he was trying to rope my grandma into it too. He’s always been like this; at one of his friend’s wedding anniversaries, all he talked about was Vine.
“I do think he’ll make it big. The thing about TikTok is that it only takes one video. I reckon he’ll do something stupid and then someone will share it on Twitter and then it will go somewhere. Watch this space.”
Joey, 25, London
‘I can’t lie – there were times I was really jealous to see my mum’s Instagram page really take off’
“My mum has always been creative, and was actually one of the first people to walk in the Yves Saint Laurent show in India, which was the first time a European designer had done a fashion show in Asia. She initially got Instagram to take photos of her travels, but at the same time, me and my brother left home, so she discovered the ‘empty nester’ and ‘fashion over-forties’ communities.
“On the weekend, my mum and dad will often go to a place in our local area, like a business park, because they’re quiet, and they'll shoot a bunch of content and change clothes in the car.
“My mum gets a lot of ideas when she wakes up. She’ll say, ‘Oh, I woke up in the night and I had this idea for Instagram. So I made a note on my phone.’ I think she plans her posts because she likes to have meaningful, thought-provoking captions.
“When she started getting followers, I had a fashion blog and was building a following. I can’t lie – there were times I was really jealous to see my mum’s Instagram page get so much engagement. But I’m older now and hopefully a bit more mature. I’m proud of her. It’s amazing to see her flourish in this way.”
Sinead, 26, Hampshire
‘There were all these comments saying how much they loved my dad and how he’s ‘their dad’ now’
“I decided to download TikTok in lockdown last year, and started posting random videos of my dad walking around with a pair of goggles, or singing a silly song. Suddenly, followers started trickling it and it was the weirdest thing ever – there were all these comments saying how much they loved my dad and how he’s ‘their dad now’. We’ve gone from 30,000 views per video to hitting 26 million on one. He’s got nearly 750,000 followers now. It’s organic and wholesome, and he doesn’t rely on it for money or anything.
“My dad is good with technology, but I’ve had to help with the video editing aspect of it. However, I’ll be moving away from home in a week’s time, so we’ll have to do a video to say where I’ll be going. My mum will be helping dad with videos now. It doesn’t really take him long to post, though – it’s usually a 15-minute process, where he’ll be out with a chainsaw or something and then will text saying ‘there’s a TikTok opportunity’.
“I do get a little bit embarrassed, because it’s my dad for god's sake. But all my friends think it's hilarious.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to [have a big platform]. I can’t imagine myself with 1,000 followers, never mind a million followers. It doesn’t matter for him, because he’s a 60-year-old man, he’s not 20. He doesn’t really go on TikTok, apart from when we post videos. But you see all these other TikTokers who just try to grab and grab – I can’t be arsed to do that.”
Georgia, 23, Devon
‘We’ve walked into each other filming and it’s pissed both of us off’
“A year ago, my mum realised I was posting consistently on TikTok, so she got an account too. She started making videos for her Psychology class, but got stuck in a loophole where she kept finding people on TikTok spreading misinformation about psychology. She started debunking the videos and that’s how she ended up getting popular.
“She spends around four hours a day doing content. We both have very different methods of planning, and talk about it all the time. We’ll send each other sounds and ideas for TikToks. But a lot of the time, she’ll film right on the spot, caption it and then post it. We’ve walked into each other filming and it’s pissed both of us off – we now have a chalkboard sign that we put on our door for when we’re filming, for quiet.
“She’s good with technology, but she’s definitely asked for emotional support when things get hard and people are mean for no reason. My mum and I have definitely bonded over TikTok drama, and have tried not to get involved in it, but it’s ended up happening anyway.
“She donates all the money she gets from the creator fund to a programme at her college, which gives money to students to help pay for their classes. She doesn’t really take sponsorships or anything – I’m the one who does any influencing. My mum is an educator.”
Rachel, 20, California
‘If anything, I’ve had to spend money to build this whole platform for him’
“My dad is the Skipping Sikh, and he’s on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He started posting videos of him skipping in lockdown last year and was showing how you can exercise at home from his allotment. We’ve been doing live sessions on YouTube and he’s using his platform to help people stay active and healthy. He’s 73, and in the South Asian community everyone says he’s the equivalent of Captain Tom Moore.
“As a Sikh, one of the principles is to do selfless service, and we don’t really make money from this at all – if anything, I’ve had to spend money to build this whole platform for him. People do think he’s behind the whole thing, and I’ll get people trying to contact him, even though it says they’re contacting me. He knows how to use the iPad, but I do help him with uploading stuff.
“He’s been contacted to go on The Cube on ITV and he’s skipping [at] the London Marathon, so he’s had a few brands get in touch about sponsorship. It’s definitely made me wonder if I could influence people, but I don’t know what my ‘thing’ is. I really hope that, by the end of this year, my dad makes it big.”
Minreet, 40, London