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How TikTok Killed The Preteen Era 

makeup on child
Image CreditFDRLST / Canva

Impressionable preteens are ditching their innocence and acting, looking, and shopping like young adult TikTok influencers. 


In a now-viral TikTok video, former Sephora employee Rianna Smith recounted the time a nine-year-old walked into her store looking for Babyfacial, a chemical exfoliant from the high-end brand Drunk Elephant marketed to minimize “the look of pores, fine lines, and wrinkles.” 

Smith asked the child whether she had used a chemical exfoliant in the past, to which the child responded that she uses the Ordinary Peeling Solution, an anti-aging acid peel, “daily.” According to Smith, this wasn’t a unique experience, revealing that while working at Sephora she encountered “15-year-olds… com[ing] in with chemical burns” caused by harsh skincare products. 

The consensus among dermatologists is clear: expensive, intense anti-aging skincare is not good for children. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr. Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics Skin Clinics, warned that many of these cosmetics, such as retinol, another anti-aging product, not only can “cause irritation” for children but could also “damage the skin down the line.” 

“It is a good idea to start a skincare regime from a teenager, but the products used should be aimed at not just your skin type but also age-appropriate,” said Ross.

Anti-aging retinoids and chemical exfoliants for children sound utterly absurd on their face, but dermatologists are having to step in and clarify the obvious for one reason: influencers. 

More chronically online than even Gen Z, Gen Alpha, or the iPad generation, is uniquely susceptible to social media consumerism. Twenty-year-old influencers with beauty brand deals go TikTok and Instagram viral showing off their skincare routines and OOTDs (outfit of the day), causing their impressionable preteen followers to act, look, and shop like young adults. 

In one TikTok, a mother recorded her daughters showing her what’s on their “Christmas wish list” at Sephora, which included luxury fragrances and a $68 Drunk Elephant moisturizer. 

Emulating older influencers, the internet is now replete with young children showing off their priceySephora hauls” and complex skincare routines. The children also use influencer mannerisms and speech patterns, which are known colloquially as “YouTube voice,” an indication of just how much time Gen Alpha is spending online.

Another example of Gen Alpha’s disturbing susceptibility to TikTok marketing is the Stanley cup craze. Parents across America reported that this year their pubescent girls weren’t asking for paints or dolls, but a Stanley cup, which The Federalist’s Kylee Griswold aptly describes as a “gargantuan stainless steel, insulated tumbler that yoga pants-wearing millennials the world over tote around like it’s their precious young.” 

Griswold correctly observes that the Stanley mania is a symptom of “cultural consumerist rot.” It’s “a social media-fueled frenzy to convince the mindlessly scrolling mob that some random beverage doodad is something they ‘must have,’” she writes.

For young people, however, the issue is deeper and far more problematic. Technology has made it possible for parents to constantly have their children entertained. Instead of allowing kids to be bored and therefore cultivate creativity, parents are instinctively putting an iPad or television in front of their kids’ faces.

Generation Alpha is completely skipping over normal childhood and experiences, desires, and interests. Meanwhile, tween clothing stores like Justice and Limited Too are things of the past. 

In our post-industrial internet age, there have always been concerns that children are growing up too fast. But with Gen Alpha, it’s accelerated to the point where even Gen Z professional influencers have taken pause and conceded that Gen Alpha’s behavior is concerning. “We play a role in the problem,” admitted one TikToker. 

In the classic chick flick “13 Going on 30,” what 13-year-old fictional character Jenna Rink wants most in the world is to be “30 and flirty and thriving.” “I don’t want to be original,” she tells her mother. “I want to be cool.” Jenna rejects her personality quirks, unique interests, and even her “uncool” friends because she wants to “fit in” and be like the adult women she sees in magazines. 

Miraculously, with the help of some “magic wishing dust,” Jenna’s dream comes true, and she wakes up as a 30-year-old. But what she realizes is that being 30 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the lifestyle and beauty trends she was pining after as a 13-year-old weren’t only beyond her years but were vapid and depressing. “You want to be a grown-up, and then when you’re a grown-up, you want to be a kid again,” she says toward the end of the movie. 

Ultimately, Jenna goes back to being 13, understanding how precious childhood is and with a greater appreciation for wholesome, natural beauty. 

Unfortunately, we can’t give all the Drunk Elephant-using Gen Alpha girls magic wishing dust to make them suddenly value childhood. There is a generation of young people who will be stunted adults. Their innocence is being stolen, and their individuality and creativity are not being cultivated because all they have ever learned to care about is what’s trending on TikTok.

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