Carter Kroeger was scrolling through the comments on his TikTok page when he saw one that got him thinking.
“You saved my life this morning”, one can read.
With each new video, similar feelings flooded in. Soon Carter and his brother, Ashton – two-time Division III state tennis champion at Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, Ariz. – realized the platform they had amassed.
Eventually, they decided to start a website – PersevereProject.org – to help teens with mental health issues, like those who contacted them on TikTok.
None of this, they say now, was intended when Carter set up his account, which was meant to showcase his musical talent.
The first video he posted had 1,557 views. It’s a cover of “Get You” by Canadian R&B singer Daniel Caeser, and Carter sings it from her parents’ living room. His musical talents – both voice and guitar – are evident in the 30-second clip, but the video makes it seem like an eighth-grader took a minute of his day to film him, because that’s what Carter did.
Fourteen months later, Carter’s videos border on professionalism. A recent effort has 160,100 views. Most are over 10,000. Some are crawling to a million.
The basic principle is the same. Carter, now 15, sits in front of a camera and covers part of a famous song. Everything else is different. What was originally a one-man operation to distract from months of quarantine is now a daily quest that involves Ashton.
Instead of being filmed in their parents’ house, the videos are recorded in front of soothing sets. Sunsets near their Phoenix home are a common choice, but mountain and beach scenes are interspersed in Carter’s stream as well. In one this summer, he resumes “18” from One Direction on a Hawaiian beach.
As the page got bigger, Ashton’s role also got bigger. Initially, he watched Carter’s videos from afar. Carter has always been the musical brother, while Ashton has been the athletic brother, as demonstrated by his accomplishments in high school tennis.
But when Carter started to receive praise for his videos, slowly growing an ever-larger audience, Ashton stepped in to help his brother. Now he is in charge of locating places and managing the camera.
With growth came the decision
It all separates the page from the hobby that it was.
“I never could have seen it coming,” said Carter of Growth, who had grown his account to 71,000 subscribers as of this fall and growing.
With the following came the possibility of monetization. Slowly, companies began to infiltrate their direct messages, with offers to pay the brothers for promotional videos.
“Our first initial thought was OK, we can be monetized, but should we be monetized? Is there a reason behind this? And we decided not to do it, ”Ashton said.
Instead, with more posts about how the videos were helping subscribers keep coming in, thanking Carter for his videos, the more the brothers wanted to use their reach to have more impact.
“We realized after a lot of that… that mental health is a serious problem in adolescents,” Ashton said.
So, rather than using her account to make money, Carter decided to expand her reach through a website. With help from Ashton, they launched Persevere Project this summer.
“We hope to start some initial conversations about mental health, emotional struggles and the physical changes that we go through,” the site’s stated mission read. “Together, we aim to overcome the discomfort of talking about the adolescent experience and normalize open discussions about feelings and insecurities.”
The site, which is linked to Carter’s TikTok page, @ carterryan33, points out that the shared experiences the Kroegers have with their followers. Its header reads “made for teens by teens”. The sections of the website – healthy living, coping strategies, inspirational quotes – are all aimed at children their age.
Carter’s TikToks are there too, under videos. “What to watch when you’re too overwhelmed to function,” the site says.
The most impactful resource, however, turned out to be the “contact us” tab. Carter’s direct messages are open on TikTok, but it’s a communication mechanism specifically designed for kids with mental health issues.
“You are communicating with someone who looks like you and who is a teenager who you can relate to,” Carter said.
However, the two brothers are aware of their limits. Neither is a licensed mental health professional. In each email, they remind those who contact this fact, directing them to a list of crisis resources provided on the website.
But they use the expertise they have, which lies in their relativity.
“At first it was definitely hard to figure out how to react,” Carter said. “… You need to talk more about how the person feels and how you would handle the situation. “
The next step, they hope, is to “create a way to get people to see professionals if they need to,” according to Carter.
Ashton added, “If we have any questions or anything, we seek advice from our parents, mentors and people like that.
Every step of the way, the brothers recognize, has been a learning process. As their reach expands, they know it will continue.
After all, they didn’t expect 30 seconds of Carter singing in her parents’ living room to lead to this.
The National Suicide Prevention Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 in English and 1-888-628-9454 in Spanish. It is free and confidential for people in distress who need prevention or crisis resources for themselves or for their loved ones.
Services for anyone in Arizona in crisis include: