Time’s most influential teens: Leadership traits win out over followers

Time magazine released its list of most influential teens for 2014, including celebrities, artists, scientists, fashion designers, and more. There are some traits that teens can cultivate that can help them make an impact wherever they live.

Mike Groll/AP/FILE
Taney Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis, center, and her teammates warm up before an exhibition baseball game against the Catskill Mountain Cougars at Doubleday Field on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Some of today's most influential people aren't even old enough to vote. From writing pop songs to hitting home runs and standing up for education, teens are making a huge impact and influencing not just each other, but adults too.

Time magazine’s list of the 25 most influential teens of 2014 reveals that young people are capable of so much more than constant selfies, endless texting, and hanging out at the mall. Created by evaluating the nominated teens’ social media following, cultural importance, and business achievements, the list’s most popular categories were athletes, actors, and singers. Teen chefs, humanitarians, and fashion designers also made the list. 

At just 13, the youngest of the influencers were White House resident Sasha Obama and Mo'ne Davis, the pitching prodigy and first ever Little League player to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. Other notable teens include golf pro Lydia Ko, 17; Erik Finman, 15, founder of Botangle.com, an online tutoring site; and a group of Irish scientists, Ciara Judge, 16, Emer Hickey, 17, and Sophia Healy-Thow, 17, who discovered a bacteria that deposits nitrogen from the atmosphere into soil. 

Although these teens are famous for their impact on the world, this list is merely a starting point demonstrating that teens everywhere can make an impression – even in small ways.  

Whether or not a teen makes the list, identifying themselves as a role model for others, being held accountable for their actions, and finding the substance behind what is considered influential are three important traits to cultivate in teens and for parents to applaud. And teens who embody these traits can be found across the country.

Bonnie Bosak Staudt, an 11th and 12th grade public high school teacher in O’Fallon, Missouri, describes how her students are making a difference. 

“We have a program at our school where the sophomore through senior students go into freshmen classes once every 2 weeks. The hours rotate, and the mentors help plan each lesson. Whether it's about social media, homework, bullying, or any other issue these kids face they help each other. The older kids are protective and ultra-aware of the younger students. The way they look out for each other awes me every time.” 

Geneva Anderson works with at risk teens at a youth apprenticeship program in Milwaukee, Wis. and coaches at a school for Muslim students in the afternoons. She says, “If we as teachers, coaches, and mentors follow through on our expectations and hold teens accountable, we will be surprised at how well they rise to the occasion. They want responsibility and accountability.” 

Ms. Anderson goes on to say that she notices teens are influencing each other through social media – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. She says, “The world gets more and more skewed for them, when people are posting videos and creating stories in Snapchat or posting videos of themselves and each other. Our lives do not only consist of things that we post on Facebook, but teens (and adults) get wrapped up in it. Just like with everyone, our private worlds are becoming more and more public. Nothing is private anymore.” 

For some teens on Time’s lists, like 18-year-old YouTube fashion superstar, Bethany Mota – who has gained additional popularity through the television show “Dancing with the Stars” – social media has proved to be the perfect avenue to get noticed. 

Kristin Leung coaches teens in a youth fitness program at the YMCA in Princeton, New Jersey and has a teenager daughter of her own. She recently reflected on how teenagers are making an impact when she said, “Teens are starting to build their personalities and find their passions. Yes, this includes testing their limits, but I see it as part of the learning process. In general, I think they want to be and do good, but aren't always sure how to behave because they haven't prioritized their lives, including what needs to be done, whose opinions matter, etc.”
From the high school student center to the basketball court at the local YMCA, local teens are actively taking roles as mentors and being held accountable for how they influence their peers. 

There’s no doubt that social media plays a big part in making those impressions. But whether they have thousands of Twitter followers or none, teens everywhere are choosing to make a positive impact. 

In fact, the nonprofit child advocacy group, Common Sense Media, produced a report stating that one in five teens say social media boosts their confidence. The same study also said that 28 percent of teens feel that social media makes them feel more outgoing. While social media is a huge influence on teens it can also be a way to increase the scope of the good they are doing.
More than ever, teens are aware of how they can positively impact the world and use social media and other similar avenues to gain recognition and success. And while this can be a double-edged sword, they are also learning more about who makes the best role models and how to be better role models themselves.

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