People often roll their eyes when I suggest that teens could do other than flip burgers and mow lawns.
Here are some examples of teens who have looked around them and found problems they wanted to solve.
The underwear problem
Megan Grassel, 17, went bra shopping with her younger sister. She noticed the selections were “padded, push-up, and sexual,” neither comfortable or appropriate for a young girls.
Megan started the Yellowberry Bra Company to fill that niche.
The spilled beverage problem
At 9 years old, Lily Born invented a three-legged ceramic cup to help her grandfather, who has Parkinsons’s, drink without spilling. A Kickstarter campaign furnished money to manufacture it.
At 11, she returned to Kickstarter to finance an unbreakable plastic version of her “Kangaroo Cup.”
The web traffic problem
In middle school, Michael Sayman liked to play computer games. He built a website about his favorite game.
To get more traffic for the site, he taught himself to code using online tutorials (his school didn’t offer computer classes) so he could build a mobile app.
When the bank foreclosed on his family home during the recession in 2012, the Michael developed an app into a successful game that kept a roof over the family.
The speech/hearing problem
Eric Zeiberg wanted a better way to communicate with his autistic sister. And a family friend with muscular dystrophy, who is a doctor, needed an alternative to pen and pad for communicating with her patients.
At 11, Eric began working on a way for people with speech and hearing challenges to be able have two-way conversations.
By age 12, Eric had developed his HandySpeech app which lets people write on the screen of their smartphone or tablet and have the text read aloud in a human-like voice.
HandySpeech worked with Nuance (the company that makes Dragon Naturally Speaking) so that voice responses can be translated into text for the person with the speech or hearing difficulty. The application is available on iTunes. An android version is being developed.
What are your kids’ problems?
All these young people were able to recognize a problem close at hand that needed a solution. They were willing to invest their time in developing that solution. And because they worked to solve the problem, adults were willing to help them.
Perhaps none of these inventions will save the planet or even put their inventor through college.
But they will certainly have taught their inventors a great deal about how to motivate themselves, and how to stick with a project, and how to learn.