Embracing the Teen Hacker as the Next-Gen Innovator

As I was sipping my morning coffee checking my LinkedIn newsfeed, I came across an article about a small group of LA School Students who had an interesting reaction when they were given iPads that were set up so that they could not access Facebook, Pandora and other social sites. What did the 300 kids at Theodore Roosevelt High School do? They hacked their way around the restrictions.

In reaction, LA school district shut down the program. The author of the article, Shane Snow, wrote that the kids, rather than being penalized, deserve scholarships and should be encouraged in their quest to push the boundaries. Some of the readers commented that the students’ actions shouldn’t be treated as such a big deal, citing resources such as YouTube that can walk you through this process. And this got me thinking, where do we draw the line with teens today between creative initiative and punishable behaviour? What is good hacking and what is bad hacking?

Well, if you look at what is being done in technology by others similar in age, this impressive level of innovation and inventiveness is becoming more and more achievable among students and even the youths of today. Zuckerberg was a computer programmer before the age of 13 and was rethinking the way we communicate socially by the age of 19: Facemash and the start of Facebook. Maybe one of these Roosevelt High teens is the next Zuckerberg?

There are Ted Talks given by teens and a multitude of apps being created by like-minded youth to keep up with next wave of technological innovation.

So it now poses the question: At what point of an idea, creation or hacking display do we become impressed, and at one point do we worry? Well, I think it depends on what the impact of that “thing” is. Facebook revolutionized the way we stay connected with family, friends and colleagues. Apps like Snapchat and Instagram are revolutionizing non-verbal communication. Just a few months ago, a New Jersey High School teen built a one-man submarine for $2,000. These levels of achievement are becoming more and more common as the world and youths in particular, are always finding ways to be creative.

The case can be made to give the 300 LA students at Roosevelt High scholarships for their initiative, problem-solving and teamwork. In showing this initiative, they set themselves apart from the other 640,000 students given iPads. But I think a larger case should be made that rather than fearing their disruptive and creative minds, we should challenge them to be brilliant. Are these kids the future hope of keeping the US at the forefront of invention and innovation? If so, we must change our attitudes and embrace the “hacker” in the new generation.