TikTok Stocks: Help Debunk Investing Myths for Your Students

by Diana Drake

Welcome to the latest edition of the Essential Educator, a blog written (or, in this case, informed) by high school educators, for high school educators. It shares best practices for supporting and engaging students through business education.

Here, we share insights from one of Wharton Global Youth’s own Educator Advisory Board members, who has grown wary of the investing messages his students encounter on social media platforms like TikTok. 

Alex Lamon, a business-education teacher from Livingston High School in New Jersey, U.S., who is also a member of Wharton Global Youth’s monthly Educator Advisory Board, has been a long-time gamer with his students in the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition.

The competition, which this year kicked off on September 25 and has more than 4,000 registered teams of high school students from 79 countries, seeks to empower youth with the skills to make informed financial decisions and understand the value of the stock market, research and analysis, and developing a long-term investing mindset.

Alex Lamon.

As it turns out, Wharton’s investment competition is but one tool in Lamon’s classroom to counter the sometimes-dubious intel behind #StockTok, one of the most popular hashtags (more than a million views) on the TikTok social media platform, where teens spend endless hours posting and watching short videos. In fact, 1 in 4 TikTok users are under 20 years old and the majority of TikTok creators are aged 18-24.

Students, many of whom are very curious about investing, are inundated with stock advice from TikTok “gurus” who are often spouting misinformation, if not ridiculous get-rich-quick strategies, notes Lamon. Teachers, he believes, have an opportunity to do TikTok damage control and help students make smarter financial decisions in the long run.

“Kids come into class thinking that investing equals gambling, and I really don’t like that.” –Alex Lamon, High School Business Teacher

And so began Lamon’s session TikTok Stocks: Insider Teaching Activities at the Council for Economic Education annual conference in Florida in September 2023, where he provided other high school educators with creative and engaging activities to elevate their stock market lessons and help students unlearn TikTok misinformation.

“Kids come into class thinking that investing equals gambling, and I really don’t like that, especially now with sports betting, which is another major issue I’ve been trying to overcome with them,” said Lamon. “They think it’s a race to the top to make the most money in the fastest time, and that’s scary. They don’t know how companies are making money. And groups like WallStreetBets, a Reddit forum that discusses stock and option trading, perpetuate that.”

Lamon shared specific classroom activities around the following three key principles to help your students course-correct their investing knowledge:

Manage Emotions. “Investing can be very emotional,” said Lamon. “Kids start freaking out when they hit the notification on their Robinhood app and their stock is down 5%. They say, ‘Mr. Lamon, what do I do?’ And I say, ‘Why did you buy the stock in the first place?’ A lot of times they can’t even answer that question.”

Use Real Data. “I want students to use qualitative and quantitative analysis when making decisions,” noted Lamon. “I want them to really focus on that, instead of just feelings and hype and misinformation.”

Keep it Engaging: “All your activities should be interesting and keep your students engaged,” said Lamon. “Investing is an elective and all the kids who are there really want to be there.”

With that, Lamon shared some of his favorite investing activities, which he builds into class around the annual Wharton Global High School Investment Competition:

🤑 Taking Stock on Day One: Provide students with a chance to dive headfirst into stocks on the first day of class, get emotional and demonstrate how NOT to be a short-term and “do no homework” investor. Give each student an index card and on one side they write the stock ticker symbol and on the other side they write two reasons why the teacher should buy a particular stock. “It’s a great way for me to see which kids are already tuned into the market and also what problems I have to fix,” noted Lamon. “I start class as their client and I tell them what I might like so they have some basis for what they recommend to me. Then I give them some time to do the research. At the end of the class, I spend $200 per class on the stocks that they suggest I buy. The real reason I do this is because when they come to class after that, they want to know how their stocks are doing. If I’m freaking out about one stock being in freefall, they teach me: ‘No, Mr. Lamon, it’s long-term investing.’ They remind me of the strategy. So, instead I’m being emotional and they’re trying to help me out.” Wharton hack: Use our Video Glossary Investing Playlist on YouTube to introduce your students to the language of the stock market.

🤑 Debunking TikTok Myths: Help your students debunk and challenge what they hear on TikTok. Showcase positive influencers who are already helping to correct misinformation and hype on social media. These include sources like The Plain Bagel and Yahoo Finance and Bloomberg. “The Plain Bagel guy literally looks at people’s TikToks with bad investment advice and explains why it’s incorrect,” said Lamon. Pair these positive influencers with Alex’s Red Flags assignment. “Ask your kids, ‘What are some red flags that you see from TikTok influencers?’” These might include: obsessions with 52-week lows in stock prices; someone selling online investing courses; not showing their portfolio; only talking about their wins, not their losses; and easy money-making schemes.” Wharton hack: Listen to this Global Youth Future of the Business World podcast episode featuring a past Wharton investment competitor and her innovation partner (both high school students) and determine, will their Minvest mission for young investors work? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their entrepreneurial idea?

🤑 Video Play: Watch and discuss movies like The Big Short, Dumb Money and Eat the Rich: Gamestop Saga (a three-episode documentary). “I love The Big Short,” said Lamon. “It’s so much about how emotions can get the best of us. I have guided notes for the students and a reflection assignment. For a final assignment, I have them pick a topic from the video and talk to me about what they’ve learned. My guided notes are not questions, but general vocabulary that I want them to understand, so I pause the video a lot. It takes me about two-and-a-half days to get through.” Wharton hack: Check out our Meet the Experts Investment Series of video conversations with financial experts on YouTube. They talk about everything from global investing and careers in asset management, to Exchange-traded Funds (ETFs).

🤑 Stock Speed Dating: Is a stock hot or not? Set up the classroom for speed dating. Each student researches a stock and creates a 30-60-second stock pitch with three or four key reasons for recommending the stock. While they’re pitching the stock, the other person is taking notes and looking for those reasons. They determine if it’s hot or not, and then they rotate. “The cool thing about the pitches is that they start to hear a bunch of different metrics of why to buy something,” noted Lamon. “They’re challenged to use the vocab in context. And then at the end, we see what stock got the hottest rating by the most people and we can reward that person for having a really nice stock pitch.”  Wharton hack: Want another perspective on pitching? Listen to this Global Youth Future of the Business World podcast episode featuring a member of the winning team in the 2022-2023 Wharton Global High School Investment Competition talking about his $12.5 million startup and what it means to craft a really strong pitch.

The popularity of social media has in some ways changed the nature of teachers’ jobs, observed Lamon. “Our kids are growing up in a place where they’re interested in investing, but it’s dangerous out there,” he said. “We really need to take all of that, filter it, and provide the real learning with some of those activities that keep them engaged, interested and away from emotion.”

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