The 2010s: Malala Yousafzai, Billie Eilish and other influential teens of the decade

  • From climate activists to gun control advocates and sports stars, these teens have made their mark in the last 10 years
Wong Tsui-kai |

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It's almost a cliché to say the world belongs to the next generation, but some teens take it upon themselves to make a difference at an early age. Here are some of the most influential, sucessful and accomplished teens of the last decade.

Malala Yousafzai

The Pakistani activist is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, having received the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. Now 22, Malala continues to fight for the right to education for girls and women around the world. She survived an assassination attempt in Pakistan in 2012, when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. 

Photo: AFP

Greta Thunberg

The 17-year-old Swedish climate activist first gained attention when she decided not to attend school after heatwaves and wildfires in one of Sweden’s hottest summers in 2018. Photos of Greta’s lone protest outside the Swedish parliament calling for stronger action against global warming went viral and sparked an entire youth movement, with similar protests spreading worldwide, including in Hong Kong. 

The 2010s: A decade in human rights 

David Hogg

The 19-year-old is one of the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) shooting, in the US state of Florida, which killed 17 people. During the shooting Hogg used his phone to film what was happening, and interviewed students in hiding with him, in case they did not survive. He is one of the founding members of Never Again MSD, a gun control advocacy group formed by MSD students. He has taken part in several high-profile protests calling for greater gun control measures in the country. 

Photo: AFP

Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf

Bugha, 17, made headlines last year when he won a record-breaking US$3 million (HK$23.3m) in the Fortnite World Cup, beating 40 million players to claim the championship. The American was 16 when he won in July last year at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, which also hosts other major sporting events. Most of the competitors at the event were aged between 13 and 24.

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Max Verstappen 

At 17, the Dutchman became the youngest driver to compete in Formula One. Max, now 22, has since broken multiple records, including being the youngest-ever race winner. He is with Red Bull Racing and is widely tipped to be a future world champion. 

Photo: AP

Billie Eilish

American pop star Billie Eilish shot to stardom with the song Ocean Eyes. The 18-year-old’s debut studio album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019), reached the No. 1 spot in both the US and Britain. With six Grammy nominations – four of them in the major categories of Record, Album, Song of the Year and Best New Artist – she is the youngest artist to be nominated for all four in the same year.

Cori “Coco” Gauff

Coco, 15, rose to prominence after defeating tennis legend Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon last year. The American became the youngest player to reach the main draw at the Grand Slam event and is also the youngest player ranked in the top 100 by the Women’s Tennis Association. 

Photo: AP

Joshua Wong Chi-fung

The Hong Kong activist first found his voice protesting against the high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and the mainland when he was just 13 years old. Now 23, Wong was also a student leader of the protests against the proposed moral and national education curriculum in 2011. The plan was scrapped by the government after a rally attended by more than 100,000 people. Since then, he has been involved in pro-democracy protests, including Occupy Central, in 2014. Wong was convicted and jailed for his role in the movement. Now the secretary-general of pro-democracy party Demosisto, Wong was barred from running in the 2019 District Council election.

Greta Thunberg recounts her 2019

Chloe Kim

The American was the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, achieving the feat at the age of 17. Now 19, Chloe is the reigning champion at the World, Olympic, Youth Olympic and X Games half-pipe snowboard. She is taking a year off from sports to study before training for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Photo: AP