What were you doing when you were a teenager? Think about it. Were your actions changing the world, making it a better place for everyone to live in? Probably not. Chances are you, like most teenagers, were too busy watching television, surfing the Internet, hanging out with friends, and simply trying to get through the awkward years. For most people, the teen years are simply formative years, wherein you try to figure out who you are and what you want to do and be when you grow up. It takes a special kind of person to have any sort of direction in life before they enter adulthood (hell, there are some adults who still don’t know what they’re doing).
In one way or another, the teenagers on this list have managed to influence, inspire, or change the world (for better or for worse, although mostly for better). Some of them are artists, some of them are entrepreneurs, some of them are inventors, and some of them are simply influential because of who they happen to be and what they happen to represent.
Here’s the list of the 10 teenagers who changed the world in 2015.
10. Ahmed Mohamed
Ahmed Mohamed was all over the news in mid-September after bringing a homemade clock into his high school. After the school suspected that he was trying to bring in a bomb, he was interrogated by the police and threatened by the principal with expulsion, and he was eventually taken out in handcuffs and sent to a juvenile detention center, where his mug shot was taken. Many believed that his severe treatment was a result of racism, and he received an outpouring of support from people around the country, including the President, who invited him to The White House.
You may not know the name Silento (or his real name, Richard Lamar Hawk), but you probably know his song: “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” The debut single from the 17-year-old Georgia rapper peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and was so popular that just about everyone, including celebrities, was singing it and doing the dance. Since being released on YouTube in June it has garnered over half a billion views. Silento was nominated for a Teen Choice Award and an MTV Video Music Award, and all before he graduated high school.
8. Muaz Nawaz, Daanyaal Ali and Chirag Shah
Muaz Nawaz, 13, Daanyaal Ali, 14, and Chirag Shah, 14, from Isaac Newton Academy in England created one of the most revolutionary products of the year: a condom that glows and changes color when it detects a Sexually Transmitted Disease. Health experts believe that the invention has the potential to drastically reduce the number of STDs in the world, and condom manufacturers have already started to approach the three young men with business offers.
7. Moziah Bridges
At just 13 years of age (although he looks much younger than that), Moziah Bridges, or “Mo,” is already something of a business tycoon. He started his own bowtie company, Mo’s Bows, in 2011, when he was only 9 years old, and since then he has appeared on Shark Tank and turned his business into a $200,000 a year success. What’s next for Mo? High school, apparently, assuming he has the time.
6. Shawn Mendes
When Shawn Mendes broke onto the music scene this year, he was compared to Justin Bieber (thankfully, without all the criminal baggage). Like Bieber, he is Canadian (born in Toronto), and like Bieber, he caught the attention of millions of people as an amateur at a young age, by posting videos to Vine in 2013 at the age of 15. Since leaving Vine, where he was the third most-followed musician, to join the mainstream music industry, he has produced a number one album, Handwritten, which features the single “Life of the Party,” which debuted at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, making him the youngest person ever to break the top 25 (just shy of his 16th birthday).
5. Malia Obama
Malia Obama is the oldest daughter of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Why is she on this list when her parents are the ones who are influential? Well, apparently Malia isn’t without her followers, as it was reported this year that a selfie that she took was the most Googled selfie of the year, beating out celebrities like the Kardashians. The selfie in question shows Malia fixing her hair while wearing a tshirt with the logo of a Brooklyn rap collective, Pro Era. Who knows, maybe the oldest Obama daughter, who will soon be going to university, will follow in her father’s footsteps and parlay her influence into a presidential run in the future.
4. Kylie Jenner
Hey, we didn’t see that these teens were necessarily changing the world for the better. At 18 years old, Kylie Jenner is the youngest member of the Kardashian clan. 2015 marked something of a breakout year for the young reality show star. Be it for her questionable relationship with older rapper Tyga, her ever-changing appearance, or her racy Instagram photos, Jenner’s name has been all over the Internet. She is regularly cited as a bad role model for teenagers, and some see her as being at the forefront of a new generation of vapid, vain, and spoiled teenagers.
3. Jazz Jennings
Jazz Jennings is a 15-year-old reality show star and LGBTQ activist. She is one of the youngest transgender public figures in the world. She has lived as a trans woman since she was five years old, and she first received notoriety in 2007 after being interviewed by Barbara Walters for 20/20. She makes this list this year because of her groundbreaking reality show, I Am Jazz, which shows her and her family “dealing with typical teen drama through the lens of a transgender youth.” Not only is she an inspiration for young transgender people, but she also helps to inform the public about the trans experience.
2. Maddie Ziegler
Maddie Ziegler is the young star of one of the most popular music videos of 2014. In Sia’s “Chandelier,” at just 11 years old, Ziegler dances around an old building wearing a Sia-like wig. Her dance routine was so popular that several celebrities imitated it. Ziegler starred in another of Sia’s music videos this year, “Elastic Heart,” opposite Shia LaBeouf. On top of dancing, she has also acted and worked as a model for Target and Ralph Lauren. Pretty impressive for someone who just became a teenager this year.
1. Malala Yousafzai
Malala gained worldwide recognition in 2012 when a Taliban gunman shot and attempted to kill her on a bus as she was returning home. Rather than deter her from speaking up about women’s rights, Malala became an even bigger activist, speaking in front of crowds at the United Nations and Harvard University and meeting with the leaders of countries, including President Obama. At just 17 years old, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her efforts to assure that all people have access to a proper education. She is the subject of the 2015 Academy Award-nominated documentary He Named Me Malala, which follows her and her journey to create a better world.
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