Lennon Cihak holds the sign that his parents think prompted local Roman… (Dave Wallis / The Forum )
This year we saw teenagers around the country challenging convention, going head to head with adults and rising above bullies. They showed courage and initiative. And their willingness to push for what they believe in for the sake of the greater good was a reminder that you’re never too young to have a voice and make a difference.
• In Michigan, Whitney Kropp, 16, participated in her high school’s homecoming court, even though her nomination had been a cruel prank by her peers. Outfitted in a bold red dress and a gold-and-white sash, Kropp not only captured national attention and praise, she also became a role model, showing victims how to gracefully and powerfully stand up to their bullies. "I can just prove all these kids wrong.... I'm not the joke everyone thinks I am," Kropp told CNN.
• In Maine, Julia Bluhm, 14, petitioned Seventeen magazine to show realistic images of girls in its pages in the hopes of changing the standard of beauty for teens. “Girls want to be accepted, appreciated and liked,” she wrote in an online petition hosted by Change.org. “And when they don’t fit the criteria, some girls try to ‘fix’ themselves. This can lead to eating disorders, dieting, depression and low self-esteem.” More than 80,000 joined Bluhm’s quest, and to their delight, Seventeen Editor Ann Shoket responded with a “Body Peace Treaty,” an eight-point plan that includes a promise to "never change girls’ body or face shapes."
• In Minnesota, Lennon Cihak, 16, questioned the notion that same-sex couples shouldn’t have the right to get married. It went against what he’d learned at church, but still, he reasoned, "In the Constitution it says all men are created equal. If they can't get married, they aren't equal." He posted his opinion on Facebook via a photo he’d taken of himself with a yard sign he doctored to advocate for “Equal Marriage Rights.” The Roman Catholic Church responded by barring Cihak from his forthcoming confirmation, sparking controversy in Minnesota and beyond. Despite the fallout, Cihak has not backed down. “He is exactly the type of (future) voter we need in our democracy,” wrote Judith Fenton in her letter to the editor.
• In California, Andrea Wong, 17, complained to the school board when Stephen King’s "Different Seasons" was pulled from her school library after a parent complained about a rape scene contained in one of the book’s stories. As The Times' editorial board wrote in October: “A single complaint about a single scene in a book is not valid grounds for taking it off the shelves. Fortunately, a student was there to teach the adults that banning books is a serious matter that calls for more careful consideration.”
• In New Jersey, McKenna Pope, 13, has petitioned Hasbro to stop marketing its Easy-Bake Ovens specifically to girls. “I feel that this sends a clear message,” she wrote on her petition on Change.org. That is, “women cook, men work.” In an accompanying video, she asks, “Is this really the message we want to send to our youth? I thought as a society we’d far moved past that. But no, we continue to force this stereotype.” Not only have some of the biggest names in the food community shown their support (see video, #everyonecancook), Hasbro has agreed to meet with the Pope family.
So, this year, as we make our New Year’s resolutions, too many of which we’ll break by the end of January, let us think about these inspirational kids and commit to doing at least one thing for the greater good in 2013.
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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier