Teen Thoughts

With no immediate end in sight to the global pandemic, teens are finding their lives upended in more ways than one. During a time in life when they crave independence and peer connection, they are often forced to social distance and engage from home. 

So, we asked several teens who participated in 4Front programming this year — what’s on the minds of teens today? 

Jack Gordon and Ben Suffel participated in 4Front’s Social Innovation Virtual Hackathon, the brainchild of Rabbi Dena Shaffer, Executive Director of 4Front and Diana Solomon, 4Front’s Director of Innovation. The Hackathon brought together teens from around the country in a one-day virtual event to learn how to become young social changemakers. 

Ella Matz is a former participant in the Social Innovation Fellowship, a hands-on social entrepreneurship program, part of 4Front, the Jewish teen engagement initiative. The Social Innovation Fellowship is currently recruiting new members for a program that will run December 6 through March 7, 2021.  

Jack Gordon, Sophomore, McDonogh School 

I participated in the Hackathon because I think that it is very important to develop entrepreneurial skills at a young age. As Mr. Scheel mentioned, a business can be used as a vehicle to help solve problems. With this being said, I wanted to understand how to start up a business so when the time comes, I will be ready. 

I personally think that the most pressing issue that teens are currently facing is the lack of socialization. At this age, it is an extremely important time to be socializing and meeting new people, but with the current conditions, kids are unable to. By missing out on face-to-face interactions it is difficult to get to know new people and make new friends. 

I think that we can fix this problem by finding/creating a space where kids can meet new people and do fun activities, particularly when the weather gets cold. This hub would have a policy about socially distancing and include precautions like plexiglass, mask-wearing and more. 

During the Hackathon, my team addressed time management. A lot of students that I know have a pretty difficult time managing their work, considering most teens have sports and extracurricular activities. My team came up with an app that would have a user enter in their schedule/homework, and it would come up with personalized recommendations of when they should do their work. 

My Jewish values play a role in solving social problems because one Jewish value that I uphold most is helping others. I am always looking to improve people’s day and help them solve an issue. 


Ella Matz, Atholton High School, Social Innovation Fellowship 

One of the most pressing issues facing teens is the educational system in America. There are so many subjects that we do not learn, such as how to be a responsible adult, manage a checking account and proper sex ed.  

In some places, such as Baltimore City, there is a lack of resources and funding for students to get the education that they deserve and need. Too many kids are staying home from school so that they can help their families and are not getting the education that some of the more prominent families get, which is causing them to fall behind. 

I think that the most pressing issue in the world is systemic racism. There are people out there that don’t even know it exists, even when they see it with their own eyes. It is happening more and more frequently and it is happening to innocent people. I think that what needs to change is the mindset of people who are not the race and to say, ‘I don’t know about your culture and I never will understand the struggle you go through, but I am here to stand with you no matter what happens.’ 

Ben Suffel, Senior Franklin High School 

I think the most pressing issue facing teens during COVID-19 is a serious lack of socialization. In normal times, the life of a high school student is starting to expand – as we begin to drive, we have more outlets, ways to get together and things to do. There are so many social events we are missing out on like proms and homecoming. As a senior, the timing is especially difficult. Now that all these opportunities are shut down, to stay connected, you have to be creative and put in a lot of effort. I’m often trying twice as hard. 

I think there should be more virtual and/or socially safe outlets for social environments. Space is key and of course, taking the appropriate protocols. 

At the Hackathon, we talked about isolation and how many people do not really have any personal contact with others right now. I think there should be efforts to provide a space for these people who are feeling isolated so they can get some form of contact with others, whether that be virtual or otherwise. 

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