Why Teens Matter: The Voice of Gen-Z

Managing Editor, Alexandra Barylski in conversation with Sammy Kelner, Contributing Editor for Teen MRB.

At MRB, we believe teenagers are intelligent citizens capable of thinking well about complex issues. TeenMRB is written by teens, but the articles are for everyone. Whether you are a teacher, parent, or scholar, these essays and reviews will offer serious thinking combined with the insights of 21st-century teens navigating a complex world. TeenMRB aims to educate readers on current events, social issues, and culture through the perspective of exceptional students, offering distinct adolescent interpretations of our world.

Why is it important in today’s political and social landscape for teens to run a serious column? 

People may believe that certain topics are beyond a teenager’s ability to comprehend, but teenagers must navigate complex issues every day. I believe that since it is impossible to shield teenagers from violence, racism, political unrest, and other other adult issues due to technology, it is time for people to embrace teen contributions and welcome their input.

Teenagers provide a new outlook on political, social, and cultural issues going on in the world, which may encourage their peers to be more thoughtful about events and culture. Teenagers are inspired by other teenagers everyday–especially because of technology. Brands know that teens are an indispensable market, and they know how to make certain styles or ideas trend within that peer group using social media.

Realizing that technology has such a powerful effect on teenagers, I began to wonder if it was possible to harness that effect to educate other teens, or start a trend around information rather than a product. If teenagers had a platform to share their ideas with other teenagers focused on their understanding of events, not only would this keep teenagers informed on culture, social and political events, but it would also inspire and encourage them to attempt to think critically about their actions and choices.

I’ve taught teenagers for over a decade, and I agree with you that teens face a world of adult problems. In some cases, they face these problems without any positive adult role models to guide them. I admire that you are a teen who wants to tackle the complexities of living with depth and awareness and offer those insights to other teenagers through publishing articles that are freely available.

So, with that in mind, what would you seek to publish by other teenagers and why?

I would love to see teenagers writing seriously about social media, COVID, the impacts of tech in teen lives, books that inspire them, or personal essays that make an argument about teen life.

As a contributing teen editor with MRB, I love an op-ed with a punch. Teenagers are more inclined to read a short piece, so I love the challenge of saying something substantial and intelligent in about 750-1000 words. What I am interested in writing, and what I seek to find in teen pitches, is a fresh perspective.

Teenagers are growing up in a completely different way from their parents. I am interested in reviews and essays that provide a fresh outlook on teen experiences that adults are unaware of, and which will be useful and encouraging for teens seeking thoughtful responses to their difficult questions and concerns.

So, it sounds like this column is quite distinct, that it aims to do something different.  As a contributing editor, what do you believe sets TeenMRB apart from other magazines or social platforms that write about topics for a teen audience?

It’s very simple: we teens write and edit TeenMRB. Practically all the other “teen” columns or magazines target teens as a demographic niche, but they are not written by teens. I believe this is because adults typically treat teenagers like we don’t have our own agency as intellectuals. Thus, adults think we are not qualified to write insightful articles that offer new ideas and develop those ideas for others.

Most teen-oriented magazines contain articles about fashion, celebrities, TikTok, and dating advice. Politics or social events are also part of those magazines, but they are often sidelined. And the pieces, no matter what topic, are written by adults shaping how teens should think. I want to reverse that. I want teens thinking critically and shaping how adults think about them. Taking on these topics from a teenager’s perspective, but with the serious commitment to thinking critically, would radically change how these topics are addressed.

Say a bit more about the distinction.

For example, while an article on fashion would not be unwelcome, it would need to include an intelligent analysis or understanding of fashion or why something is trending, rather than merely informing others about a current fashion trend. Trending topics interest teens, but I am interested in pitches that include a perceptive and clear take on a trend–I want to see a fellow teen tackle a topic through their unique analysis, not simply restate information or report gossip.

As a result, I think this column will enlighten both teens and adults to what teenagers are actually capable of contributing to a public discussion of current events and culture. Age is not what makes us adults, but the quality of our thinking on a given issue. I think there are many teens who think deeply and care greatly about the same stories that adults do. The news is easily available to everyone, so even teens might have something worthwhile to contribute. 

I agree that a good idea is a good idea, no matter the writer’s age. So what value do teens gain (and maybe even adults) by reading other teenagers talking about topics and issues in a serious and rigorous way?

The typical teenager is perceived by many adults as apathetic, unaware of the current issues and events going on in the world. While this might be true of some teens, I believe many of my peers are looking for quality writing….but, truthfully, we are less likely to seek it from adults.

Teenagers have an incredible social power among their peers. We are much more likely to read articles discussing these topics if the articles are written by our own age group. Providing access to popular topics treated in a serious manner may inspire teens to further educate themselves on current events, political, and social issues and hopefully encourage them to want to act and make a difference.

It is my hope that exceptional articles written by teenagers for teenagers will help my peers gain insight and confidence. If teens see other people their age striving toward excellent thinking, then they might be inspired to think more deeply and take ownership of their world.

Sammy Kelner is a high school sophomore. In Winter 2020, she participated in Harvard Model Congress and was a staff writer for her school paper. She is currently the student President of Key Club, and she is interested in social justice work.

Are you a teen, or know a teen, who wants to pitch TeenMRB?
Send your pitches to themarginaliaROB@themarginaliareview.com | Subject: Attn. TeenMRB