Teens These Days!

Jack AndrakaThings have really changed since I was a teen. Even though we knew that we were so radical, and we would make the world a much better place if only we were in charge, all we ever really did was put that idealistic energy into clothing and make-up that scared our parents, rather than doing anything actually game-changing.

But teens these days are different. They’re so used to sharing and accessing information freely and instantly, that their mentality is not “someday” or “if only”– it’s “How do I make it happen right now?”!

Here are a few examples:

When he was 14, Jonah Kohn invented a device that converts sound into tactile vibrations for people with hearing loss. He was a Google Science Fair winner in his age group.

When I was 14, I think the most interesting thing I did was smoke my first (and last) cigarette with some of my friends…

When he was 15, Jack Andraka came up with a better, cheaper early diagnostic detection test for not only pancreatic but also ovarian and lung cancers! Since then Jack has won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Youth Award, and spoken at the Clinton Global Initiative, FutureMed, Chicago Ideas Week, and numerous TED events.

When I was 15 I was proud that I had an actual speaking role in the school play…

At age 16, Egyptian teen Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad invented a process for turning plastic waste into biofuels by using an inexpensive catalyst. She won a European Union Contest for Young Scientists award, and is patenting her process.

Another 16 year-old, Elif Bilgin from Turkey, developed a technique for turning banana peels into bioplastics in the hope of reducing our dependence on petrochemicals. She won a Scientific American -Science in Action award as part of the Google Science Fair.

When I was 16, my friends and I didn’t spend our time worrying about plastic waste or overdependence on petrochemicals. We spent hours debating who was cuter: Erik Estrada or Harrison Ford…

At age 17, anti-war activist high-school student Marian Bechtel invented a low-cost device that can act as a prototype for a new type of mine sweeper, by using sound waves to determine where explosives are located. (She got the idea when she was playing the piano and noticed that certain notes would cause the strings of a nearby banjo to vibrate.) She was also an Intel Science Talent Search finalist.

When I was 17 my friends and I officially declared ourselves Pacifists. “Being a Pacifist” mostly consisted of sitting around idealizing about nuclear disarmament while listing to The Clash…

So, I guess what I’m saying is, before you start lecturing your teen about too much screen time, first you might want to make sure they aren’t in the middle of researching a cure for cancer!

A professional “trailing spouse” and mother of two, Suzanne has lived in several different countries. Her fifth corporate relocation (yes count ‘em, five!) brought her family to Richmond VA in the summer of 2011, and she is really excited about exploring all of the possibilities that Richmond has to offer! Also, she in not moving again. Really. She means it!