Four times a year, we ask our readers to write about the impact recent stories have had on teens around the country. In Winter 2021-22, we had a range of responses from writers connecting to stories about comparing trauma, race, and activism. Congratulations to our winners and be sure to apply for our next contest for Spring 2022.
Sophia Burnston, 16
11th grade, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts (FL)
Dear Anonymous Author,
Thank you for speaking up and sharing your personal trauma in “My Trauma’s Worse Than Yours,” exposing a prevalent issue that is rarely discussed: competitive victimhood. Recognizing how you have been impacted by social pressures and acknowledging how you have unintentionally fed into such pressures is deeply moving.
Your observation that “competitive victimhood seems to convince people that it’s cool to suffer” is the best summary of this issue that I have encountered. People feel the need to demonstrate that they have suffered the most, to prove how strong they are for overcoming such adversity, which they hope will equate to respect or acceptance.
The consequences of such competition can be dire. Failing to meet an arbitrary standard can lead to dark and dangerous thoughts or actions, especially when people feel the need to compensate by creating trauma for themselves to compete with others. Alternatively, people may feel intimidated, unable to speak about their experiences because they are “unworthy” in comparison to the magnitude of those of others. I myself am guilty of feeling that my pain is not worth talking about in comparison to others, which has only led to more pain and isolation. Yet, I still feel my experiences and my life are smaller, less important than those around me. I am still working through this feeling, even as I affirmatively choose not to share my experiences with you.
The most important thing I took from your story is the need for widespread empathy. We must create a world where everyone feels welcome to share their experiences without the pretense of competition. We must talk about our trauma without using it as a weapon. We must listen to others and appreciate what they have achieved by surviving trauma without insinuating that we haven’t done enough.
Because we have.
Samirali Masoud, 16
11th grade, Bronx Early College Academy For Teaching and Learning
Yotam Pe’er’s piece “Am I an Activist to Make Change or to Look Cool on Social Media?” deeply resonated with me. Many ask why our generation is so politically outspoken and avid about human rights. While I would like to say that our generation has more hospitality and acceptance, that is sadly not the case.
Gen-Z has romanticized protests. Defying authority and getting 1.3 million views is a power trip in privilege. Unarmed Black Americans died for simply existing, yet tone-deaf defiance in the name of Tik Tok fame is acceptable. It seems quite ironic. The obsession with the shallow romanticization of protest culture takes away from the cause. Fake activism has become a trend based on what’s in the news. A repost does not make anyone an activist. The appreciation of those who paved the way to make protesting possible, makes an activist. Taking time to study the history, care for the cause despite its popularity, and sacrificing safety to evoke change selflessly makes an activist.
I am not deserving of the title activist. I am 16 years old; though I have the passion, I have not put in the work my predecessors have. I am a young, petite, light skinned, young woman. I have the privilege to protest and for the most part not worry about whether or not I make it home. The title of activist belongs to people like Marsha P. Johnson and Malcom X. Remarkable people, who did it to pave the way for the next generation of Black and LGBTQ+ youth, and not for fame.
Ana Pinzon, 19
11th grade, Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day School
Dear anonymous writer,
After reading “My Trauma’s Worse Than Yours,” I felt so moved because I acted the same way when I was younger. I was 9 years old, finishing 4th grade when my parents passed away. It was a violent situation and I had to grow up with my older brother. Can you imagine how it feels? Seeing my friends’ parents everywhere? I felt so different and my shield towards that feeling was telling everyone that I am an orphan girl, making them feel guilty about their parents.
My first reaction when I read your story was “Oh my God,” sometimes I act like that and now I am 19 years old! I’ve been doing this because before I felt like I didn’t have nothing to fight for and people always said that I am so strong and they admire me. It made me feel comfortable again. Last year, I tried to kill myself twice and sometimes I acted like the girl you mentioned. It was like a competition about who was more depressed between us.
Actually, you taught me some important stuff about why it is pointless and unhealthy. You made me think about it and I asked myself two questions: “What’s the point of telling everybody about my parents?” And “Why do I need to say it to feel accepted?” And I couldn’t answer that because I don’t know the reasons. I learned that I don’t have to compare my life problems or my situation with others’ stuff because it is not helping me.
Teens: Enter the writing contest for a chance to win prize money! Apply through our Writing Contest page for Spring 2022.