TEEN
01/05/2016 12:34 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

10 Things Teens Should Care About in 2016

A new year is here and with all the talk about resolutions and new beginnings bigger themes and issues may get lost in the shuffle. Teens should pay attention to the following 10 topics as we navigate our way through 2016 -- Bon voyage!

1. The Presidential Election. An election of firsts - first time that some of us will be able to vote, first time we might elect a female president, first time we might have a buffoon like Donald Trump as a nominee. This is an election that will determine the next four, if not eight, years of our country's direction, the period of time during which we will become adults. Not paying attention would be shortsighted, to say the least.

2. The Cost of College. It's a constant refrain and it's true -- without a college degree we stand no chance in the workforce of the future. With college on the horizon, the relentless series of articles about student debt make the process of choosing a college extra-harrowing. It's up to us to amplify the conversation about ballooning college costs so that we can get the education we need at a price we can afford.

3. The Environment. In the aftermath of the Paris climate conference, things are looking up for the global environment. It is especially noteworthy that traditional polluters, such as the United States, and emerging polluters, such as China and India, all signed on to the Paris protocols. But, will a flashy agreement based on a shaky consensus be enough for meaningful change? It may be, but only if we do our part to advocate for the initiatives to help save the planet, our planet.

4. The SAT. This spring ushers in a moment of fear and loathing for high school juniors as it marks the debut of the fabled "new" SAT. How will we prepare properly for a test no one has taken? Can we believe claims that it tests real knowledge not just aptitude? Will it be fair? Will colleges show sympathy for juniors who have to make tough choices about taking the old and/or the new test? Students have always had reasons to detest the SAT. This year, we have a few more.

5. The Future of Social Media. As teens, we thrive on everything social media. Yet, we also have short attention spans and are always striving to discover the "new" and the "next." What will happen to Instagram and Snapchat in the coming year - can they remain fresh and relevant to our cohorts? Will Twitch streaming replace Vine (Instagram video pretty much already did)? Will After School continue to boom? Will Wishbone break through? It's vital that we stay up-to-date so that we can retain our thrones as social media kings and queens.

6. Sleep (lobbying to get more of it). Everyone says we need more sleep (8-9 hours to be precise). But they also say we need to do our homework, get straight A's, be a varsity athlete, do 10 extra-curricular activities, cure cancer, and save the world. Who has time for sleep? Will high schools back off the workload? Will parents push for later high school start times (all the evidence points to brain-building benefits). With more and more teens cracking under the pressure of too much stress and not enough shuteye, 2016 could be the year that the discussion over sleep heats up and real action is finally taken.

7. Mindfulness. Teens are constantly told that mindfulness is amazing. But, who has time for meditating, reflecting, yoga, and tai-chi? As mindfulness gathers steam via apps, classes, and pop culture, teens undoubtedly have a stake in its progression. Is mindfulness a miracle cure or just another way to Americanize and monetize yoga? I guess we'll find out.

8. Virtual reality (goodbye Netflix). The New York Times' experiment with its cardboard virtual reality player proved incredibly exciting. But that was just the beginning. VR is seconds away from being an expected norm, and as avid digital consumers, teens are bound to be at the forefront, demanding more immersive and awe-inspiring virtual reality experiences. In other words, give me 360 degrees or give me nothing.

9. The Meaning of Life. It's becoming trendy to label driven, high-achieving high school and college students as "excellent sheep," individuals motivated purely by success who are living a life devoid of meaning. Is this accurate or mere slander? 2016 will undoubtedly bring continued conversation about the topic and it is up to us to be thoughtful about where we stand and whether we are crafting meaningful lives.

10. Being Gen Z. Teens are caught between generations, but recently we've been identified as part of a new generation, "Generation Z" or "The Founders." Millennials have been co-opted by the relentless march of time, but Gen Z has already been labeled by Time magazine as "overly polite and unoriginal." As 2016 unfolds, it's up to Gen Z to take charge of the narrative while it's still being written -- to stand for something, to speak loudly about our preferences, and to begin to play our role in steering the country toward greatness.