In the viral #facetimeprank TikTok trend, also called the "New Teacher Challenge," parents are filming their children's reactions to "scary" photos of adults who may look different or unfamiliar.
Motivational speaker and influencer Lizzie Velasquez, who was mocked by one TikTok user taking part in the trend earlier this month, says these kinds of videos are harmful and may shape how children respond to the unfamiliar.
Velasquez made a TikTok video of her own in which she urged parents to avoid stoking children's fear by baiting them into being alarmed by photos of people who look "different."
After appearing in yet another prank video, Velasquez made another TikTok in which she presented a different approach for parents to take with their children — and one mother followed the advice.
When Lizzie Velasquez discovered the #facetimeprank trend on TikTok, she knew it was only a matter of time before her photo surfaced on the app.
The 31-year-old motivational speaker, who has a rare genetic condition called neonatal progeroid syndrome, is unable to gain weight — and she frequently faces the vitriol of internet trolls mocking her appearance.
"Given my past, dealing with hurtful memes and bad videos, I knew what was coming," she told Insider.
In one version of the trending TikTok prank, called the "New Teacher Challenge," parents instruct their children to participate in a FaceTime call with a new teacher for the upcoming (remote) school year — before turning the screen around to reveal a photo (oftentimes, a mugshot) of an adult who looks "different." Then, they share their children's terrified reactions with viewers, hoping for a laugh.
As she anticipated, Velasquez was tagged in one of the prank videos earlier this month. In the clip, a mother filmed herself telling her son to meet his new teacher before revealing a photo taken from Velasquez's social media. Insider was not able to reach the uploader of the video for comment.
In response, Velasquez made a TikTok video of her own addressing the harmful impact of the trend.
"TikTok, I need your help," she said in the clip. "If you are an adult who has a young human in your life, please do not teach them that being scared of someone who doesn't look like them is okay. Please. Everything that these kids need to know about empathy and being kind to one another starts at home."
In just one day, the video was viewed over 485,000 times, and commenters are voiced their support for Velasquez's message.
"Yes! This trend never felt right to me," one commenter wrote.
"I'm so sorry I did this with my daughter too. I deleted it right away," another said. "I feel bad and will spread the word."
Velasquez, who frequently speaks about cyberbullying prevention, had hoped her video would be a teaching moment for parents
The trend never sat right with her, she told Insider at the time, and she knew she had to come to the defense of other people featured in the prank videos, many of whom have disabilities or addiction issues.
"When I see these kinds of videos, I know exactly that feeling of being made fun of — and I sort of go into, like, protection mode, and I want to stand up for people," she said.
While Velasquez believed that parents were simply "trying to be funny," their videos would have serious implications.
"Kids remember their parents' actions," she said. "I think we underestimate the number of small things that kids really absorb. It's harmful for them to see their parents baiting them into laughing or being scared by someone who doesn't look like them."
Children, she said, will take the lessons they learn at home and apply them to the wider world.
"If they go out into the world and see another child — or even an adult — who is in a wheelchair or missing a limb, are they going to take the same reaction of being afraid or laughing?" she wondered.
But parents, Velasquez said, could use her situation as an opportunity to address how children respond to the unfamiliar.
"This is really a chance for parents to teach their kids that when you see someone who is different, it's not okay to laugh at them and it's not okay to be scared of them — but it is okay to be curious about them," she explained. "It's okay to recognize difference and to ask questions. I would much rather that someone look me in the eye and acknowledge me as a person."
When Velasquez continued to see her photos appear in the prank, she decided to offer a more concrete suggestion to parents
In a TikTok video posted on August 28, Velasquez shared another example in which a parent used her photo in the "New Teacher Challange" — this time, sharing what she believes is "the proper way to react" when teaching children about difference, empathy, and acceptance.
Velasquez said that the prank video she shared actually had good intentions — in the full clip, the parent eventually tells her child that insulting his teacher's face would "hurt her feelings" — but added that laughing at a child's scared reaction to the unfamiliar can be confusing and obscure the lesson.
"Instead, give them this scenario: 'how would you feel if you were in their shoes?'" she said. "You might underestimate what kids really take in at such a young age."
Ultimately, Valesquez said that she hopes that parents will better match their reactions to the lesson they home to impart.
Her video spurred several parents to begin conversations with their children about difference and kindness.
Dr. Allison Rodgers, a fertility doctor with a strong TikTok following of her own, made a TikTok video in which she showed her son a photo of Velasquez — and the two discussed how ridiculing comments might be hurtful. Velasquez then shared the results to her TikTok.
##duet with @dr.allison.rodgers Hope to meet you one day too, buddy!
♬ original sound - dr.allison.rodgers
In the first TikTok, Rodgers' son Alex simply smiled and said that Velasquez looked "nice." In a follow-up clip, Alex said in the event of his friends mocking Valesquez he would tell them to stop and consider her feelings.
"It's a conversation as simple as this, my friends," Velasquez captioned the video.
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