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. ♦