Nothing excels like teen spirit

Lazy, narcissistic, full of hormones? Meet four future stars of business, sport and entertainment who have no time for teenage cliches

Since the dawn of time – or at least the dawn of the automobile – teenagers have had a reputation for being a lazy, self-centred bunch with more hormones than sense. For you see, before the 1920s, the world was a simpler place, divided into adults and children. Then along came cars and buses, with their potential for, respectively, unsupervised dating and mass transport to school, and before we knew it the American teenager was born.

Advertisers couldn’t believe their luck, and have dedicated every waking moment since then to figuring out what makes teenagers tick. Science has started to take an interest, too, and with advances in technology have come the discovery of some striking physiological – not just hormonal – changes taking place during the teen years that challenged long-held assumptions about how the human brain matures.

In many ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s. Areas involved in more basic functions, such as controlling movement, for example, mature first. But the parts of the brain responsible for things like controlling impulses and planning ahead are among the last to mature, with huge implications for things like calculating risk and understanding consequences. Add to the mix social media and Snapchat and the indelible record that is the internet, and all of a sudden being a teenager just got a whole lot more complicated.

Even the economy affects teenagers disproportionately. “Economic conditions during this formative period of life not only affect how people think about finances and politics, but also how they think about themselves and their importance relative to others,” according to psychological scientist Emily Bianchi, of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.


In a study published last month, Bianchi found that those who enter adulthood during a downturn are most are likely to endure humbling setbacks, making them less narcissistic. Could this spell the end for the selfie?

“The Great Recession may produce a cohort of less self-focused young adults,” according to Bianchi. “These results also may shed light on why narcissism among American college students has seemingly swelled in recent decades... if narcissism is rising, the strong economy of the late 1980s and 1990s may help account for this rise.”

But narcissism pays, according to the study, which also looked at its role in economic success. “Narcissists regard themselves as superior to other people and believe that they are entitled to good outcomes, excessive admiration, and unyielding praise,” says Bianchi. And this is reflected in their pay cheques: “CEOs who came of age during tumultuous economic times were . . . less likely to pay themselves substantially more than other top employees.”

However, a study by the same author last year showed that graduates who entered the workforce during economic downturns were more satisfied with their jobs, even long after economic conditions had changed.

But what of the Irish teenager? We’ve turned out our fair share of recent teenage success stories, from Saoirse Ronan and The Strypes, to the billion-dollar Collison brothers and that One Direction fella, but what of the current crop of teens? We speak to four Irish teenagers about their recent successes and what they hope for in their futures.

RIANNE KEAVENEY (17) Entrepreneur Managing director of Brace Yourself, winner of Youth Entrepreneurs of the Year 2014

“The idea came from my granny,” says Rianne Keaveney, referring to her Brace Yourself mini company. “She lost power in one of her hands and was finding it difficult to close the clasps on her jewellery.”

In September, the 17-year-old brought the idea to her transition-year teachers at Mercy College in Sligo and a mini company was born. “My dad works in Sligo Tool and Die,” she says. “So I told him about the idea and met with a designer and found out a bit about plastic and how it works.”

Rianne and her mini company colleagues – Roisin Shaw, Sinead FitzSimons, Sinead D’Arcy and Samantha Scanlon – came up with a nifty plastic hook to help fasten bracelets and have since been crowned Youth Entrepreneurs of the Year 2014. “We’ve sold over 600,” says Rianne.

For now, the Brace Yourself hook is for sale online and at a small selection of retailers, but the girls are looking to expand. “We met with a patent attorney, who says it’s more important if we patent our new design. I can’t really say any more about it,” she says, with far too much modesty.

“I used to think business was boring but I’m enjoying the fact that when you really put your mind to something you can really achieve something.”

LUKE ANDREW FEENEY (14) Actor Representing Ireland at the World Championship of Performing Arts in Hollywood

"Damo and Ivor was my first real big thing I have done," says actor Luke Andrew Feeney. The 14-year-old's face lights up talking about it. "It was a lot of fun to do. I played the character Noddy, one of Damo's gang. I got to dump a bucket of crap over a bridge and I was also in a scene where Damo was trying to make money and there was, like, a car-wash scene with loads of . . ." – he pauses for a moment – "women. So yeah, it was a laugh."

In July, he goes to Hollywood with a team of 14 to represent Ireland at the World Championship of Performing Arts. The competition is billed as “the Olympics of performing arts”; different events will include dancing, singing, acting and modelling.

He’d love to be an actor when he grows up. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen but I’d really, really love it. I hate the prep but once I get up on stage it’s completely different. It’s just fun.”

And for someone so dedicated at such a young age, he doesn't take himself too seriously. "I've been in the National Concert Hall at Christmas. I was in Oliver! and The Sound of Music. But it was Annie last year – sadly I didn't get the main part," he says. "Next year it's The Wizard of Oz – I'm hoping to be a munchkin . . . I'm the perfect size."

JORDAN CASEY (14) Entrepreneur Chief executive and founder of Casey Games and TeachWare

Jordan Casey set up his first company, Casey Games, in February 2012, at the ripe old age of 12. “I’ve been programming since I was nine. I went to shop, bought a book and started learning how to programme. It was just a fun hobby.”

His parents, both accountants, are supportive now, he says, but at the time “they didn’t realise what I was doing . . . they’re not very techie. They thought I was just messing around – playing games rather than making them.”

His first game, Alien Ball vs Human, went to No 1 in the app chart. "It was like a version of space invaders. It was the first app I made, and I was just experimenting, really, but it was really popular. When I saw I could make money from it, make a brand around it, I started the company."

He's taking a break from game development to focus on his second start-up, TeachWare. "It's a web app for primary teachers to easily manage information in the cloud," he says. Launched last October at the Dublin Web Summit, it's now being used by more than 100 teachers from all over Europe, as well as one in South Africa and another in India.

A second-year student at De La Salle Waterford, he juggles school work with running two businesses, as well as travelling to conferences, including speaking at the TEDx youth conference in India. “I don’t even know if I’m going to go to college,” he says. “I’ve been to London a few times and I really like the atmosphere there.”

Asked about the future, he says he wants to be the “kind of person who will create my own job. If one company doesn’t go well, I’m not going to leave it at that. Most successful CEOs have had lots of failures – failures are a really good way to learn.”

CIARA GINTY (16) Boxer AIBA World Junior champion and 2013 AIBA World Junior Female Boxer of the Year

Ciara Ginty, the current AIBA World Junior lightweight champion, has just pummelled her opponent to claim her second win in 24 hours at the under-18s championships at the National Stadium in Dublin. But outside of the ring, the athletic 16-year-old is a much less terrifying mix of politeness and shyness.

“I started boxing when I was around nine,” she says. “I really enjoy it. You get to travel a lot and there are always competitions on. You get to meet loads of new people.”

The Mayo boxer was glued to the television for the 2012 Olympics in London and has Olympic aspirations of her own. “I will try. I’m not sure yet for the next Olympics if I’ll still be too young, though.” She trains twice a day, “every day, sometimes three times. There’s some mornings that you don’t want to get out of bed but once you’re out doing it, it’s grand.”

Last September, she won the World Junior champion title in Bulgaria. “Pat [McDonagh] was out there supporting me,” she says, referring to her Geesala Boxing Club coach. Before getting in the ring, she gets “awful nervous, but once I’m in there I just concentrate on what I have to do”.

This summer she competes at the Summer Youth Olympics, in Nanjing, China. But before that there’s a national title final to contend with. “I’m feeling confident enough,” she says.


 KATIE TAYLOR started boxing at the age of 12 , won her first major title aged 19 at the 2005 European Amateur Championships in Norway.

NIALL HORAN One Direction's only Irish member has spent the last of his teenage years making his millions with the band. The 20-year-old's personal fortune is around €17 million.

 THE COLLISON BROTHERS Patrick and John Collison, from Limerick, were just 17 and 19 respectively when they sold their first company Auctomatic for $5 million. The pair's Stripe online payments company was recently valued at $1.75bn.

 SAOIRSE RONAN The Carlow actress made her screen debut on RTÉ's The Clinic when she was nine years old and shot to international fame when she co-starred in Atonement, aged just 13.

 SINEAD O'CONNOR formed her first band, Ton Ton Macoute, before turning 18. Nothing Compares 2 U, which the singer recorded in her early 20s, was one of the best-selling records in the world in 1990.

DANIEL DAY LEWIS made his film debut aged 14 in Sunday Bloody Sunday, getting paid £2 to vandalise cars parked outside his local church.

VAN MORRISON was 12 when he formed his first band, The Sputniks. By 18 he had formed the band Them, releasing the rock classic Gloria a year later in 1965.

GEORGE BEST was 17 when he made his First Division debut with Manchester United at Old Trafford having been discovered at the age of 15 by the team's scout Bob Bishop.

 ROSIE HACKETT was still a teenager when she began campaigning for improved working conditions, co-founding the Irish Women Workers' Union in 1911, aged just 19. A bridge over the Liffey was named in her honour and opened this month.

KATHARINE TYNAN was first published at the age of 19, in 1878. Before marrying and moving to England, the Clondalkin poet was well-known in Dublin literary circles and wrote poetry and up to 100 novels before her death in 1931.


The most visual manifestation of the rise in narcissism in recent decades has to be the selfie. A picture paints a thousand words, but the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013 paints just one: Me.

However, about 500 years before Lindsay Lohan discovered Instagram, self-portraiture was coming into its own in the middle ages. The technology may have moved on from paint to clay to megapixels, but the human need to depict ourselves and our faces has not.

Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck, from 1433, may be the earliest self-portrait, but Albrecht Dürer was the first artist to take to the medium with such gusto. A career narcissist and megalomaniac, one of his first self-portraits was a drawing at the age of 13, in 1484. But his final, unmistakably Christ-like, self-portrait probably sums him up best.

All the greats were at it – Vincent van Gogh painted himself 37 times in three years – but some were more discreet than others, for example, Michelangelo’s face on the skin of St Bartholomew on the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s subtle depiction of himself among the crowd in School of Athens.

And women were no slackers in the selfie department either, with almost every significant female painter leaving an example behind. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was best-known for her self-portraits, many of them painted after an accident at the age of 18 left her bedridden for months. “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” she once said.