There’s a new TikTok trend making its rounds on social media, and brace yourselves, it’s a truly awful one. The “New Teacher Challenge” consists of parents showing their children photos of disabled people and telling the kids that it’s their new teacher. The children’s reactions are filmed, obviously, and are usually fearful.
I am not including an example of one of these videos in this article, because I do not want to spread that kind of cruelty any more than it’s already been spread. However, the basic idea is to use a photo of a disabled person to scare one’s children. The children’s reactions are supposed to be funny. There are some major reasons why this is not at all funny and instead incredibly hurtful, ableist, and just all-around awful.
Ableism is Not Cool
For starters, using photos of disabled people and presenting them as something so bad that it’s supposed to inspire some extreme reaction in children is blatant mistreatment of disabled people. People with disabilities face a great deal of discrimination and hardship in this country. This TikTok trend is a perfect example of such discrimination through social media. Treating any group as though they are inherently less than for something they cannot control, such as a disability or skin color, is an incredibly damaging thing to do. Moreover, making fun of pretty much anyone in this fashion is a form of bullying.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this trend is what it teaches children about disabled people. This TikTok trend paints disabled people as something to be afraid of. When children see their parents making fun of disabled people, especially in such a public fashion, it sends a message to the next generation that ableism is acceptable.
Another rather problematic aspect of this TikTok trend is scaring one’s children on purpose for views. It’s part of the problem our society faces with these challenges, and children on social media in general. People are sacrificing the well being of not only the disabled community but their own children, all for the sake of social media attention.
Several prominent disability activists are speaking out against this trend, calling for empathy. Melissa Blake, a writer and disability activist whose image has been used in the New Teacher Challenge, wrote a moving response to the disturbing trend for Refinery29.
Motivational speaker Lizzie Velasquez, who you may know from her TedTalk and YouTube videos, also spoke out on Instagram in response to the trend. Her image was also used in videos for the new teacher challenge.
Velasquez had a powerful call to action for parents, saying, “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”