We are at an unprecedented moment in history when teen girls are redefining what it means to be successful, make money and have meaning in life. Ultimately, they are changing what it means to be powerful in the world -- for everyone, forever.
The new power girls are epitomized by BFF entrepreneurs Julianne Goldmark and Emily Matson, who started hairband company Emi-Jay when they were still in high school. The company raked in $5 million in sales in 2012. But more important to the founders, who are sophomores in college now, they donate 20 percent of their profits to charity.
Or take Jennie Lamere, 18, who taught herself how to code by watching YouTube videos and then entered a hackathon to solve a problem that had been driving her crazy -- how to stop spoilers of her favorite TV show, Pretty Little Liars, from popping up in her Twitter feed!
There have always been alpha girls who sit at the front of the class and take every leadership opportunity, but now alphas are the everygirl. The girls you see practically superglued to their phones aren't just distracted or self-involved, as teenagers are often dismissed as being. Those girls are creating their personal brands on Twitter, launching fashion careers on Tumblr, starting their own businesses on Etsy and becoming beauty moguls on YouTube. Their phones, and the social-media apps they are obsessed with, are the hammers of their power.
What a dramatic shift from 2007, when I became editor in chief of Seventeen. For years, I had been running a girls' leadership campaign at another teen magazine, but by 2007, it often felt as if I were pulling teeth to get girls interested in the idea of being a leader. They were much more focused on advice for getting through eighth period rather than planning for a career. Our tagline when I came to Seventeen was "It's fun to be Seventeen" -- and it was! The reigning teen queen was Lauren Conrad, the reality star of MTV's "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills." But those were the days before the recession. Lauren and her affluent friends spent most afternoons sipping Frappuccinos and discussing their relationship dramas. Today, Lauren has gone on to tremendous personal success; but back then on her TV show, there was a lot of shopping and very little talk about the future beyond Saturday night.
IRL (in real life, as teens say), this generation's girls, who were just crossing into their teen years as the crash of 2008 hit, saw the crushing effects of the recession on their families, and they vowed never to let that happen to them. In just the last year, as those tweens matured into teens trying to figure out their place in the world, our inboxes have been flooded with questions about how girls can jump-start their careers. They don't want to wait until after college to build their résumés or launch start-ups -- they're laying the groundwork now. Fewer than half of our readers have been kissed, but more than 80 percent want an internship -- not someday, or in college, but now. In high school.
To better understand the impact of this sudden change, last fall Seventeen conducted a national survey of teen girls 13-19 to ask how they defined power. The results were stunning: Independence -- which girls defined as "calling the shots" at work and "living life on your own terms" -- accounted for 41 percent of what makes a girl powerful, they said. Philanthropy, social activism and "making a difference in the world" accounted for another 29 percent of what makes them feel powerful. Money, awards and fame, which are all the traditional ways Forbes or Fortune might track "power," trailed with tiny percentages at the bottom of the pack.
So you can forget the "lean in" conversation of last year. This generation doesn't want to climb the ladder to the top -- these girls want to build their own ladder, because success only matters to them if it is on their terms. Finding a greater meaning in their work is just as important as making money or achieving a lofty position.
Another power coup: Real girls trumped celebrities as their icons of success. Girls declared that fashion bloggers have more power than pop stars, entrepreneurs have more power than movie actresses and founders of charities have more power than reality stars.
For this generation, the Hollywood version of reality stars has been replaced by self-made fashion and beauty gurus on YouTube who have created empires from their bedrooms, like Bethany Mota, 17, who, full disclosure, got her start in the pages of Seventeen! With 4.4 million subscribers, Mota has built her success on short, friendly and occasionally goofy videos. She is held in such high esteem by her fans that this winter, teen-fashion retailer Aéropostale replaced movie star Chloë Grace Moretz with Mota as its spokesmodel -- and named her designer of her own line of clothing. Mota, like the other girls of her generation, is authentic, ambitious and unapologetically girly. This is the new power generation.
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