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Colossal Youth

Or, why you should never base anything on what you see on Google News.

Illustration by Minna

With my mother, talks about other people’s kids always start in the car. She probably thinks of this as good parenting. I think of it as entrapment. I’d bet we’re both a little bit right.

“So, I saw on Oprah that people your age are having rainbow parties … do you know about these? Have your friends been invited to any?”

Stare out window.

“Have you ever done whippets? Did you hear about that teen murderer? Anyone you know been abducted by a sexual predator?”

Dig around in glove box for some sort of diversion.

When you’re an adult, sometimes the only teenagers you really have access to are the ones that have sprung from your own loins. Beyond my brother and me, my mom gets most of her information about teenagers from “the news,” so it isn’t hard to understand how she comes up with these ridiculous questions. I put “teenager” into the Google News search bar, and before I could even hit enter, the drop-down thing confirmed my suspicions. Bad news is the primary news about teenagers that’s available.

Glad that “weiner teenager” and “missing teenager” are two separate suggestions.

So I went looking for some good news, and after scrolling through the first 100 Google results, most of which had a sad or negative slant (“Life-Threatening Amoeba Infects Teen in Volusia County”), things seemed a little less bleak. In Joplin, Missouri, a town that fell victim to a tornado strike in May, 26 teens had been helping to sort through the debris. In Auckland, NZ, tech-minded teens got together for the first National Digital Teen Summit. Unsurprisingly, young people were doing awesome things. What did surprise me, though, was how often “news” was synonymous with “bad news,” at least when it came to teenagers. Of the first 100 results retrieved by Google News, only 29% of the articles documented good things about teenagers. The rest covered resolutely bad news (58%), or news that was of either neutral or debatable value (13%).

So, in the name of balancing things out, I present to you a super-brief and necessarily extremely incomplete history of young people kicking ass. News media, take note.

  • Approx. 1333 BC: Tutankhamen, known as King Tut to ancient-Egyptian insiders and third-graders alike, ascends to the throne of Egypt at the age of nine. Ascends to a throne. At the age of nine. Two years younger than Noah Cyrus and he successfully rules an entire civilization.
  • 340 BC: With his dad away fighting a war, 16-year-old Alexander the Great takes charge of the Macedonian empire. By the time his dad returns, he has successfully assembled an army, defeated the Thracian Maedi and established a colony. He names the colony Alexandropolis, after himself. It’s Home Alone with slightly higher stakes.
  • 1429: Part peasant girl, part walkie-talkie to God, 17-year-old Joan of Arc leads the French army to a handful of victories in the Hundred Years War. Her actions were so radical that she was eventually burned at the stake for heresy.
  • 1777: Sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington makes Paul Revere look like a loser by riding her horse about twice as far as he did in the middle of the night to warn American colonial soldiers about the approach of the British.
  • 1815: Mary Shelley begins writing Frankenstein at the age of 18. The book was published in 1818 anonymously, and people were in such disbelief that a girl as young as she could produce such horror that they attributed the work to her husband. Years later, it was finally released under her name.
  • 1824: Fifteen-year-old Louis Braille invents, uh, Braille.
  • 1955: Claudette Colvin, age 15, is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, AL, city bus. She beats Rosa Parks to the punch by nine months.
  • 1967: Sixteen-year-old author S.E. Hinton publishes The Outsiders, one of the most frequently banned books of its time.
  • 1974: Tatum O’Neal, age 10, is awarded an Oscar for her performance in Paper Moon, thus making her the youngest person to ever win an Academy Award for acting.
  • 1989: Seventeen-year-old tennis player Arantxa Sanchez becomes the youngest French Open champion.
  • 2005: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen become 18-year-old CEOs by buying out billion-dollar media enterprise Dualstar.
  • 2009: Fifteen-year-old Kimberly Anyadike flies a plane from Los Angeles to Newport News, Virginia, securing herself the title of youngest African-American female to fly solo across the US.
  • 2011: Missy Franklin, 16, takes home five medals for swimming at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Some are calling her “the next big thing” in swimming. I am calling her incredibly badass.

Next time my mom gets in my face about pharm parties, sexting scandals, and abducted teens, I’m just going to sigh and email this to her. I give you permission to do the same with your own parents/grandparents/guardians/weird relatives. ♦


  • Mollie September 20th, 2011 11:08 PM

    I had to google rainbow parties…

  • Microbyte1 September 20th, 2011 11:12 PM

    I’m in love with this post!
    Everybody thinks we just take drugs, still cars, break windows etc. .
    This post shows them we’re f*cking awesome!

  • ometembe September 20th, 2011 11:22 PM

    2011 – 15 year old Tavi G. launches Rookie! ^^

    • twinklegal19 September 27th, 2011 5:12 AM

      Good one :) Definitely should be on the timeline!

  • Jenny September 20th, 2011 11:38 PM

    Jamie, you are amazing! I love this so much. Also 4 years after she published Frankenstein, Ms. Shelley became a young widow when her husband drowned and washed up ashore after being feasted on by fish, and Shelley kept her husband’s preserved heart in a jar by her writing desk!

  • Amy Rose September 20th, 2011 11:52 PM

    this is one of my favorite rookie posts so far. it reminds me of the great truman capote, who wrote summers crossing at nineteen!

  • LoversSaintsSailors September 21st, 2011 12:31 AM

    Again, I learned so many things today. But this fish-snack-husband-heart thing is probably gonna be the one that sticks.

  • cj575 September 21st, 2011 12:51 AM

    This is soo truuue! Teenagers always get a bad name! and goo Auckland, NZ! Thats where I’m from!

    • Prairie September 25th, 2011 8:46 PM

      YAY! I too am from Auckland! I did not attend the National Digital Teen Summit though, not exactly into all that stuff.

  • MrPhoenix September 21st, 2011 1:04 AM

    I too had to google rainbow parties. Jeez, I need to get out more, live up to the standard of badassery expected of a teen like myself.

  • AmandaLouiseHobba September 21st, 2011 2:58 AM

    Teens have the potential to do great things, and are unfortunately underestimated by far too many adults. I am determined to be an adult who respects teens, rather than judging them or jumping to conclusions about who they are or what they do.

  • Robyn September 21st, 2011 3:27 AM

    Linking Alex the Great with Home Alone! WOW!

  • kookaburra September 21st, 2011 4:45 AM

    Had to Google both rainbow parties and whippets… Thankfully my mom doesnt watch Oprah XD

  • Hannahd915 September 21st, 2011 6:32 AM

    I was just complaining about this to my nonexistent audience last night.

  • Mae September 21st, 2011 7:55 AM

    You forgot Clovis, who became king of the Franks and led an army at age 15 in 481 AD! He also apparently had God on his side as well.
    As well, Ibn Sina, aka Avicenna, was a practicing lawyer, surgeon, and theologian-philosopher by age 18 in the Abbasid Caliphate.

  • Sunshine September 21st, 2011 8:26 AM

    Society expects the bare minimum (and sometimes less) from teenagers. Unfortunately, some teens take advantage of that. WE NEED TO BE ABOVE AVERAGE PEOPLE, if we’re gonna change their opinion of us. Just sayin’. And it’s not just adults either. I used to go to a public school and now that I’m at a private school, everyone talks about all the “bad” things they do at public school. Honestly, the public school kids were better behaved for the most part than those at private. Teens have this weird idea that other teenagers are out doing badass things and they have to compete with that to be “just as bad” or “just as cool.” Basically, everyone does a bunch of crap saying “SEE, I’M JUST LIKE THOSE COOL PUBLIC SCHOOLERS!” And the public schoolers glance over like, “WTF, dude? IT’S NOT COOL TO EGG AN OLD LADY!” And the private schoolers are all “What?!? That’s not the COOL THING?” It’s a pathetic circle of competition based mostly off of rumors. THAT’S where our bad rep comes from.

  • oriGINAlity95 September 21st, 2011 8:37 AM

    I’m always looking for “good news” stories. Obviously bad news for some reason generally has people more interested and that’s sad. Good news is good! Good news about teenagers is GREAT because for some reason (there are a lot of reasons that I don’t feel like defining) all teenagers have a bad rap for being a teen. Which really sucks. I like this, awesome teens from all times doing awesome stuff. :) Thanks for making me happy!

  • Pashupati September 21st, 2011 10:55 AM

    Check out http://proyouthpages.com
    In particular:
    On the same subject. (I feel like a librarian, saying that!)

  • Pashupati September 21st, 2011 11:24 AM

    Ah! This list is no list without Mary Beth Tinker!
    I remember in France, when people first heard of Tavi Gevinson, some person compared her to Minou Drouet and said “we’ll find out as well that her mother is behind that”. Sadly, no mother was behind Minou Drouet’s writings. It’s like when people say “that was not her code, that was her boyfriend’s” about Gigabyte, the virus writer, to prove women are bad at computing and no contribution made by a woman should be taken as what it is, that it is only presented as being from a woman to make it look more spectacular. (plus, just like for Minou Drouet’s writing, Gigabyte’s code was indeed Gigabyte’s code) Well, in fact that’s surely a bad domain comparison, but you get the overall thing. (don’t know what happened of her, believe now she works in the security industry or something)
    People complain about teenagers not contributing to society by means of cultural production, but when they do they are dismissed, and it is even less easy to do legally than if you were adult; plus you are constantly reminded that you shouldn’t, that the result would be bad just because you’re young, and it’s not what’s wanted from you.
    I remember a website called Teenagerdom or something, maybe on tumblr, about analyzing medias’ eye on teens.

  • Rita Unicornia September 21st, 2011 11:55 AM

    RGHHHH every collage in this site kills me!! I love it… this is awesome… rainbow parties? hahahah had to google it too!

  • Ray September 21st, 2011 2:49 PM

    *Showing parents…*

  • Hunter September 21st, 2011 2:54 PM

    AH I hope the title is a Young Marble Giants shout out. All around good post :^)

  • unicorn September 21st, 2011 5:17 PM

    i need to look up pharm party, rainbow party, and whippet. i think that adults know more about all the bad things teenagers are doing than the teenagers who are supposed to be doing it.

  • Fiona-na September 21st, 2011 7:40 PM

    This is all so awesome. The fact that a lot of people have to even google the meaning of these words just supports the point even more.

  • kookaburra September 21st, 2011 10:17 PM


    Wow…I can’t wait til I can vote!!!

  • Jamie September 23rd, 2011 2:52 PM

    awwww guiz <3

  • Cassandradannielle September 24th, 2011 10:29 AM

    google aussie teen jessica watson 18 yr old – youngest person to sail solo around the world unasisted.

  • AineFey September 30th, 2011 10:00 PM

    SNL did a great sketch last season about a Mom hearing horrible things that teens do on the news and assuming her daughter was doing it also. It was the episode where Emma Stone hosted. It sounded exactly like the opening of this article.

  • Lucidita October 3rd, 2011 11:49 PM

    Missy Franklin is amazing, so badass.