Four times a year, we ask our readers to write about the impact recent stories have had on teens around the country. In Fall 2022, we had a range of responses from writers connecting to stories about mental health, race, and speaking out. Congratulations to our winners and be sure to apply for our next contest for Winter 2022.
Nico Smarro, 16
11th grade, Baruch College Campus High School (New York, NY)
I Am Not My Intrusive Thoughts
“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that,” Nabeeha Islam was smart to use Eckhard Tolle’s quote as her mantra. Many of us deal with the voice in our head telling us what we should be doing, how we are not measuring up and other disturbing thoughts.
Reading Nabeeha Islam’s story, “Fighting Two Battles at Once,” in which she seeks relief from intrusive thoughts and the bizarre and embarrassing behaviors they caused, reminded me of what I and my fellow teenagers experience on a daily basis. Bombarded with an overload of information from media influencers, unrealistic beauty standards and the constant temptation to compare ourselves to doctored images of others, we are left with the pressure to be someone else.
We ask ourselves, “who are we?” and “how can we measure up?” Islam’s message is, “…we are not our thoughts.” Now, we can remind ourselves to be the ones who recognize this.
Islam found help through medical intervention and strategies to cope with her mental health issues. We must develop techniques to quiet the thoughts that produce feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Just as it was difficult for Islam’s parents to recognize her struggle and to know the best way to respond, it is probably the same with our parents.
Moving forward, when I am feeling anxious or down, I will remind myself that others may not understand that comments such as, “everyone is anxious” or “you will get over it,” are not always meant to belittle my feelings. Sometimes they’re trying to help but find themselves at a loss to solve what they see in you as a fleeting problem. Journeying through my teenage years, I will keep Islam’s mantra in my mind. Thank you Nabeeha Islam.
Julius Schoenholt, 17
12th grade, Midwood High School (Brooklyn, NY)
Finding Joy and Beauty in Physical Media
The strokes of fervor are evident, in the marks upon a canvas. Flipping through a bin of records, not knowing what you’ll discover. You insert a VHS and a gentle crackle warms the room. Looking at polaroids we reminisce of old times.
It may seem that physical media has lost its relevance in our time. We have switched to streaming music, TV, and movies. We take photos, make art and read books on our phone. However, within all this change, many still hold on, and are even going back to the seemingly obsolete and unnecessary ways of the past.
The satisfaction of a collection, stacks of vinyl and DVDs, are all appealing to our eyes. To possess a piece of art, to grasp it in our hands, is simply enough to make us hold on. The excitement of the search, the joy of finding, is simply enough to keep us looking. In the digital age, to own something, personal and intimate, is more rare and important than ever.
These are the values of physical media. Winnie Lin’s story “Why I Love Hard Copy Books” reminds us that there are still reasons for hard copy books, CDs, and DVDs. Although widely disused, the beauty and appeal of physical media will not go unseen. To read the joy of someone flipping the page of a hard copy book showed the plain allurement and overlooked relevance of physical media.
Kyla Davidson, 17
12th grade, Sparkman High School (Harvest, Alabama)
I Choose Freedom, I Choose Myself
I cannot say that your life has been an easy road. Nothing you have gained has come without a fight. However, I admire your strength. You took the chance to take back your own life. It takes courage to share such a life-changing story. I know because it changed me.
If there is one thing that I can relate to from your story, “Choosing Myself,” it is the spinning emotions that spiral from life’s adversities: worry, stress, anxiety and sadness. These emotions have consumed me in the past, but your story has taught me something. How to choose me.
When you talked about your mother’s situation and living in the Bronx, I discovered it was me on the inside. I was living in a confined space of depression and anxiety after my life had torn me down. I felt there was no way out for me.
Just like you, I did have a choice to take a chance and live, but I was addicted to my pain. I chose to stay confined to my emotions. I was not ready to say goodbye to my past.
When you made the choice to permanently stay with your cousin it made me think of the choice I had to make; I had to choose myself or my emotions.
If there is anything that you have taught me it is that we all have a choice. I can choose the path that gives me a second chance and control over my own life. I could choose freedom. And I did. I chose me.
Keya Annam, 14
9th Grade, Stuyvesant High School (New York, NY)
I Will Stand My Ground, I Deserve Respect
I get off the train. Walk home. My grandfather opens the door. I come in. I set down my bag, turn on the TV. A bright, blue headline flashes across the screen: “8 Dead in Atlanta Spa Shootings, With Fears of Anti-Asian Bias.”
I turn off the TV.
My phone lights up. A notification from the New York Times; I click on the white box; “Asian Woman Fatally Pushed in Front of Oncoming Train In NYC.”
As an Asian-American myself, I realize that the current times are very troublesome.
Every morning when I go to school, my mom emphasizes the importance of staying aware of my surroundings. I tell her to stop worrying, but when I think about everything, I know that her concerns are justified.
I can vividly imagine what Seohee Jung was experiencing when her grandpa was attacked. I know because I go through the same thing all the time. It’s humiliating when I wear my cultural clothing and people assume I don’t speak English.
It’s demeaning when waiters and waitresses are surprised to see me at a fancy restaurant. But I feel even worse when I see Asians on TV talking about how they were attacked, and I know that if I were in their situation, I would be equally powerless.
However, when I can use my voice and make a change, I don’t want to be tongue tied or conflicted.
By reading Jung’s story, “The Privilege of Telling My Side of the Story,” I realize that standing my ground can make an impact. It can change minds; show people that I deserve respect.
The message throughout Jung’s story is not one of defeat but of empowerment. It is a message of finding your voice, because it matters.
Chloe Zhao, 16
12th Grade, Midwood High School (Brooklyn, NY)
My Age, Gender, and Race Caused Me to Remain Silent, Not Anymore
I remember hearing: “Do you Asians really eat dogs for dinner?!’” and “Of course 100%. All Asians are good at math!”
All from my classmates when I was an eighth grader.
It made me sad that these stereotypes have stemmed in our nation for so long that even future generations have unconsciously acknowledged those opinions as if they were “facts.” What made me even sadder is that after I heard my classmates asking me those absurd questions, all I did was laugh with them as if their sounds did not slice open my heart. It costs me to feel vulnerable and ashamed.
“What you’re saying is not true at all! Even though I’m Chinese, I’ve never eaten dogs before!” I screamed internally, conjuring a scene of me pointing my finger at the carefree faces of my classmates. But in reality, only awkward laughter was heard.
Whenever I see a fight coming, I try to pull my friends or adults to help resolve the issues. Some people perceive my actions as cowardice; I agree. I want to stand up for myself, my family, and my community. However, it is always easier to say than do. Just like Jung, I envisioned myself being the one that redresses issues due to language barriers between my family and native English-speakers because I am the only one in my household that speaks both Chinese and English fluently.
After reading Seohee Jung’s story, “The Privilege of Telling My Side of the Story,” I understand that race and gender are only part of the factors that cause us to remain silent. Age plays a significant role as well. Due to a relatively young age, Jung and I unconsciously resort to silence as a self-defense mechanism. Even though we are capable of resolving the issue, we choose not to because adults will not take us seriously.