Carter Krueger was browsing the comments on his TikTok page when he saw one that made him stop and think.
It reads, “You saved my life this morning.”
With each new video, similar feelings flowed. Quickly, Carter and his brother, Ashton—the two-time state champion in third division tennis at Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, Arizona—realized their podium.
In the end, they decided to start a website – PersevereProject.org – to help teens with mental health issues, like those they connected with on TikTok.
None of this, they now say, was the intention when Carter first started his account, which was meant to showcase his musical talent.
His first video ever posted had 1,557 views. It’s the cover of “Get You” by Canadian R&B singer Daniel Caeser, singing it from inside his parents’ living room. His musical talents — vocally and on guitar — are evident from the 30-second clip, but the video looks like an eighth-grader who took a minute of his day to film, because that’s what Carter did.
Fourteen months later, Carter’s videos are professional. One of the recent efforts has garnered 160,100 views. Most of them are over 10,000. Some crawl about a million.
The basic premise is the same. Carter, now 15, sits in front of the camera and covers part of a popular song. Everything else is different. What was originally a solo operation to distract from months of quarantine has now become a daily task that Ashton engages in.
Instead of being filmed in their parents’ house, the videos are recorded against serene backdrops. Sunsets near their home in Phoenix are a popular choice, but mountain and beach scenes are also interspersed with Carter’s recaps. One this summer, he covered “18” from One Direction on a beach in Hawaii.
As Page grew, so did Ashton’s role. At first, watch Carter’s videos from afar. Carter has always been the musician’s brother, while Ashton has been the athletic brother, as his high school tennis accomplishments showed.
But when Carter began receiving praise for his videos, and slowly grew an audience bigger and bigger, Ashton jumped in to help his brother. Now, he is responsible for exploring locations and managing the camera.
With growth came the decision
All this separates the page from the hobby it used to be.
“I could never have predicted that would happen,” Carter said of the growth, which has brought his account to 71,000 followers as of this fall and is growing.
With the following came the possibility of monetization. Slowly, companies began pouring in their direct messages, with offers to pay siblings for promotional videos.
“Our first thought was OK, we can monetize, but should income be monetised? Is there a reason behind it?” Ashton said.
Instead, with more messages about how the videos helped followers keep flowing, and Carter thanking for his videos, the more the brothers wanted to use their reach to make a bigger impact.
“We realized after a lot of this… that mental health was a serious problem in adolescence,” Ashton said.
So, instead of using his account to make money, Carter decided to expand his reach through a website. With Ashton’s help, they launched Project Persevere this summer.
“We hope to start pre-conversations about mental health, emotional struggles, and the physical changes we are going through,” the posted message states. “Together, we aim to transcend the discomfort of talking about the adolescent’s experience and normalize open discussions about feelings and insecurities.”
The site, linked to Carter’s TikTok page, @carterryan33, emphasizes that Kroegers’ shared experiences with the following. Its title states “Created for Teens by Teens”. Site sections – healthy living, coping strategies, inspirational quotes – are all geared toward kids their age.
There are also TikToks by Carter, below the videos. “What to watch when you’re too tired for work,” the site says.
However, the most influential resource has proven to be the Contact Us tab. Carter’s direct messages are open on TikTok, but this is a communication mechanism designed specifically for children with mental health.
“You connect with someone like you and a teen who has something to relate to,” Carter said.
However, both brothers are aware of their limitations. There is no licensed mental health professional. In each email, they mention those communicating about this fact, directing them towards the list of crisis resources available on the website.
But they use the experience that they have, which lies in their ratio.
“It was definitely difficult at first to figure out how to respond,” Carter said. “…You have to talk more about the feelings the person feels and talk about how to handle the situation.”
They hope the next step will be to “create a way to attract people to professionals if they need it,” according to Carter.
“If we have any questions or anything, we ask for advice from our parents and mentors and such people,” Ashton added.
The brothers admit that every step of the way was a learning process. And as their reach expands, they know it will continue.
After all, they never expected that 30 seconds of Carter singing in his parents’ living room could 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’s free and confidential for those in distress who need prevention or crisis resources for themselves or loved ones.
Services offered to anyone in crisis in Arizona include:
This article originally appeared on The Arizona Republic: TikTok Brothers Inspired Startup Site to Help Teen Mental Health