• Carolyn Cohagan

Winners of the 2018 Girls With Pens Essay Competition


As I tour the US for the launch of my new novel, Time Next, I am asking girls across the country aged 8-17 to answer the question “Why is it important to give teenagers a voice on social issues?” Please read the inspiring winning essays below!

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Madeleine Matney

Sophomore at Challenge Early High School, Houston

Society labels my generation as Gen. Z, the most diverse generation with our sexualities, genders, races, and disabilities. We must give teenagers a serious voice on social issues so that we can create a more diverse and safe space, ending homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism (the discrimination of disabled persons), and also establish gun laws to protect us in our own schools.

Teenagers in the modern era have a tiny voice in social issues, especially those that affect us the most directly (gun laws, I’m looking at you), but we don’t get taken seriously. Older generations portray us as hormone-ridden, moody, horny, mentally-ill delinquents whose opinions don’t matter. We, more than any other generation, experience our diversity and understand the oppression that we must go through to make it day-by-day because of how we get pushed to “get our lives together”. A recent survey showed that forty-eight percent of Gen. Z identify non-LGBT, forty-nine percent are women, forty-six percent are people of color, and the UN says that somewhere between one-hundred eighty million to two-hundred twenty million adolescents worldwide have a physical or mental disability. All these groups can’t live life to its fullest potential if they don’t have access to the same opportunities as others. Giving teenagers a serious voice on social issues will allow us to change the game for minority groups. Our experience and diversity can, for example, end the racism behind immigration laws and allow immigrants of color to have the same opportunities as white immigrants. We can rid the world of domestic abuse and pay women the same as men. We can introduce LGBT-inclusive education in our school systems. We can help disabled adults get employed without discrimination.

In addition to helping minority groups gain access to fundamental rights, there is some access that should be limited. For example, if a man walks into a school and shoots children, thoughts and prayers won’t do anything. Currently, nothing stops this man from buying a gun at the nearest Walmart then walking into a school to take down as many students and staff possible. The white man in the white house isn’t directly impacted by someone walking into a school to shoot children, the students must deal with it first-hand. When teenagers step up to save their lives, the white man ridicules them and refuses to do anything. Survivors from school shootings stand up to congress and gun-lovers nationwide while getting treated like toddlers. Students ask to put limits on who gets guns and how many they can have so that we can save lives and we get instantly denied.

As we attempt to use our voices to help shape the world, not only for ourselves, but for other generations, we get pushed down, insulted, and not taken seriously. Gen. Z has the motivation, courage, and ideas to change what life looks like for not only minorities and students, but for every one, we only need our voices heard and taken seriously.

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