x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

More and more teenagers are achieving great things - and shattering myths

Our teen talk columnists finds that when it comes to achievement some teens are now beating adults at their own game.

Once upon a time, all that was expected of teenagers was to be the generally annoying recluses they are, shutting themselves up in their rooms for unspecified amounts of time, banging doors, disturbing the peace of the house and subjecting everyone in the vicinity to icy sarcasm and well-practised eye-rolls. The luckier parents got the kids who, despite rebellious phases, turned out to be fairly well balanced and got through school without incident. Times are changing pretty quickly, though.

The "average" teen is no longer sulky and uncommunicative, but rather articulate and worldly wise, owing to the training for the far-off university interview that begins at the age of three. He or she is also highly skilled in at least one co-curricular activity. A specimen of teenager that would have been considered a prodigy in a particular field a couple of decades ago is now considered just a really talented person, simply because there are so many other young people just as skilled and talented in the field. Which is all pretty unfair, if you ask me. It does mean, though, that who we call "stars" and "world champions" are getting younger by the day.

This season's finalists of American Idol aren't seasoned vocalists who've reached the grand old age when a singer's voice truly matures, which is about their 30s. They are very much in their teens: fresh-faced winner Scotty McCreery is 17 and cherubic Lauren Alaina, the runner-up, is 16. Sixteen! I'm a couple of months short of 16 and as far as I can remember, I'm not a national singing sensation. Yup, checked the record, not yet.

It's not just their singing that sets them apart either - they possess the poise, the stage presence and charisma of seasoned performers; charisma that translates into votes, week after week, as they continue to enthral audiences.

While the furthest I have gone is dreaming about doing great things, in typical yeah-yeah-I'll-change-the-world-tomorrow fashion, it seems that other teens have decided to take fate into their own hands and push themselves to the limit, achieving great things in the process - and right here in Dubai, too.

There are several examples just at my school, Dubai College. Charles Barsaga is a pianist and violin virtuoso originally from the Philippines who, at the ripe old age of 18, was appointed concertmaster of the Youth Orchestra of the Middle East 2011. Having already secured his performing diploma, he makes sure he practises for at least three hours a day - upping practise times as exams and important performances, such as auditioning for major conservatoires, loom. A gifted musician of the highest calibre, he hopes to see through his ambition in life - to play Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto and receive a standing ovation.

Sophie McAdam-Clark, another 18-year-old, with roots in London but born and brought up in Dubai, is already reaching for the stars. Having always enjoyed singing for her family, she recently emerged as the winner of the vocal category of the Young Musicians of the Gulf competition. A captivating voice isn't just what sets her apart, though. Almost a year ago, she had gorgeous waist-long hair. Hair means a lot to a teenage girl; it's her pride and passion. And Sophie was more than happy to have her locks lopped off to create a beautiful wig for someone who had lost their hair after treatment for cancer. She also raised Dh10,000 for the Maria Cristina foundation (the Dhaka Project) and cancer research. With all that under her belt, what career path does she want to follow? "I love food a lot so maybe I'll be a chef, maybe an air hostess for a while to travel." For teens today, the sky really is the limit.

While the musical sphere seems to be in good hands, teenagers are creating a niche for themselves in the world of sport, too. Andrew Chetcuti, the head boy of Dubai College, takes it in his stride to swim for his country, Malta, holding the Maltese records for 100m freestyle and butterfly and 50m freestyle and butterfly. At the ongoing Small States of Europe Games in Liechtenstein, he has already bagged a silver medal in the 100m freestyle - the first time a Maltese swimmer has earned a medal at these games. He also participated in the Dubai Fina World Championships. No big deal for an 18 year old. Oh, and he's also set to go in for the London Olympics in 2012.

The wave of genius penetrating the glass ceiling of age means that there will be hundreds like Scotty, Lauren, Charles, Sophie and Andrew around the world who are unafraid to shatter the good-for-nothing teen stereotypes and give older musicians and sportsmen a run for their hard-earned money. Which is all very well, but excuse me while I go and have a lie-down in front of the TV. If you're going to have teenage Olympians, you need to have us lesser mortals in the background to applaud them - and balance out all the infuriatingly inspiring young talent in the world.

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.