172 Controversial Debate Topics for Teens

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The Internet has become a battlefield of numerous contrasting opinions on various topics, especially now when people are confined to their homes due to the COVID19 pandemic. Simultaneously, it became a playfield for an array of trolls and spammers, ruining any constructive discussion. Thus, teenagers have decided to establish so-called flop accounts on Instagram as a safe virtual space free of trolls and adults. Teens use these “flop accounts” to express their opinions about controversial topics related to racism, gun control, eating disorders, teenage suicide rate, and others. 

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Unfortunately,  some flop accounts could not escape the common trap of online discussions, like a polarized atmosphere filled with drama and misinformation.

For this reason, we decided to offer you a list of controversial topics for teens that can be used in debate classes moderated by teachers who will provide a tolerant environment for exchanging opposing opinions. 

This list differs from general debate topics and controversial topics lists by focusing on the teenage population, their major interests, and concerns. Today, the younger generation wants to be engaged in serious discussions about controversial topics to have their voices heard and taken seriously. Thus, you will find here a wide array of different hot-button topics to use in debate classes to complement the list of general debate topics for middle- and high school students. 

Since discussing polemical topics may be slippery, we will point out some rules teens need to follow to create a tolerant and constructive atmosphere while debating these topics.

Dos and Don’ts When Debating Controversial Topics

Dos and Don’ts When Debating Controversial Topics

Teenagers tend to be an opinionated bunch that will fervently defend their point of view. In turn, fiery arguments can easily get out of control. This is why teachers, as moderators, need to establish some ground rules and explain what behavior will not be tolerated during the debate on controversial topics. Here is a chart of the most common rules to follow during controversial discussions

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DOsDON’Ts
Listen to other debaters respectfully.Do not interrupt others.
Listen actively with understanding.Do not think of your reply when someone else is talking.
Criticize ideas.Do not criticize individuals.
Comment to share information.Do not comment to persuade others.
Give everyone an equal opportunity to speak.Avoid speculation, blame, or offensive language.
Be open-minded toward other participants.Do not make assumptions or generalizations about others.

General Controversial Topics for Teens

General Controversial Topics for Teens

As we have already stated, teenagers like discussing hot-button topics, proving that they are old enough to make their opinion count. Furthermore, controversial topics are highly engaging, exciting, and easy to research because there is a collection of relevant material about these burning questions. 

On the flip side, these topics may involve strong emotions and opinions, making someone feel awkward or embarrassed while debating. Also, some topics may present taboo themes for certain social groups, making them difficult to discuss. For these reasons, teachers should moderate controversial debates carefully, continuously reminding students to stick to the set rules.

Here are some general controversial topics teens may find exciting to discuss:

  1. Should the voting age be lowered to 16?
  2. Should the drinking age be lowered to 16?
  3. What is an appropriate age for teens to start dating?
  4. What age is appropriate for teens to become sexually active?
  5. Should sex education be a mandatory subject for middle- and high school students?
  6. Should teenage girls terminate pregnancies?
  7. Should birth control products be easily accessible to teens?
  8. Cyberbullying can be worse than real-life bullying. True or false?
  9. Is peer pressure a good or bad thing?
  10. Does social media play a part in the increase in teenage suicide rates?
  11. How can beauty pageants affect teens’ self-esteem?
  12. Teens shouldn’t keep secrets from parents. Agree or disagree?
  13. Energy drinks should be banned for teenagers. Agree or disagree?
  14. Mobile phones shouldn’t be allowed at schools.
  15. The grading system is effective. True or false?
  16. Students should be obliged to wear uniforms. Agree or disagree?
  17. Teens should be allowed to get tattoos. Agree or disagree?
  18. Vaping is less harmful than smoking. Agree or disagree?
  19. How should students stay motivated to strive for excellence despite the COVID-19 pandemic?

Controversial Political and Legislative Topics

Controversial Political and Legislative Topics

Politics is born out of controversy. It is easy to find an array of contrasting opinions on every current political issue. This is why teens may find numerous actual political and legislative issues intriguing and worth debating. This is especially true nowadays when administrations worldwide struggle to find an effective way to fight the global pandemic, simultaneously saving people’s lives and economies. Apart from this current crisis, there are some permanent controversial political issues regarding freedom of speech, gun control laws, and racism that are constantly drawing the young population’s attention since these directly affect their lives daily. Here is a short list of the most captivating controversial political topics for teens.

  1. Is democracy a better form of government than a monarchy?
  2. Should a minimum wage be guaranteed?
  3. Should the US government be involved in domestic issues of other countries?
  4. Should there be term limits for US senators?
  5. Has the Electoral College become obsolete?
  6. Should there be exceptions to the freedom of speech?
  7. Hate speech should be banned. Agree or disagree?
  8. Should governments guarantee the protection of privacy?
  9. How can people fight the gender gap issue?
  10. Is there institutional racism in the USA?
  11. Is affirmative action beneficial or harmful?
  12. Is immigration beneficial or harmful for the USA?
  13. Should drugs be legalized in general?
  14. Should prostitution become legal?
  15. Abortion should be banned. Agree or disagree?
  16. The gun control laws should be stricter.
  17. Using or carrying automatic weapons should be forbidden.
  18. Voluntary military service vs. mandatory military service.
  19. Water should be a human right and not a commodity.
  20. Can the death penalty be justified in specific cases?
  21. Should people be convicted for drug-related offenses?
  22. Should police officers be charged for the excessive use of force and brutality?
  23. Why are minorities disproportionately represented in the US prison population?
  24. The USA has the largest prison population in the world. Why is that?
  25. In what cases should mentally challenged people be charged with crimes?
  26. Should minors who are multiple offenders be tried as adults?
  27. The number of jurors should be increased. Agree or disagree?

Controversial Religious Topics

Controversial Religious Topics

Debate topics regarding religion are among the most sensitive ones because they deal with a person’s deepest beliefs and core values. For this reason, students need to approach religious controversies with utmost caution not to hurt someone’s feelings and turn the debate into a heated argument. 

Religion-related debate topics are highly engaging, constantly provoking strong emotions and opinions. This is especially true when it comes to religious freedom, which some people may exercise to discriminate against other social groups.

  1. Can atheism be regarded as a religion?
  2. Religion has become an outdated concept. Agree or disagree?
  3. Religion does more harm than good. Agree or disagree?
  4. Creationism should be a part of the school curriculum. Yes or no?
  5. Religious education should be banned from schools. Agree or disagree?
  6. Religious symbols should be forbidden in schools.
  7. Public prayers in schools, yes or no?
  8. Should religious institutions be required to pay taxes?
  9. Most religions are essentially sexist. Agree or disagree?
  10. Is Buddhism more peaceful compared to other religions?
  11. Is it acceptable for people to use their religious freedom to discriminate against the LGBTQ community?
  12. Can you be good without God?
  13. It is essential to marry someone of the same religion. Agree or disagree?
  14. Is the church doing enough to protect single teenage mothers from discrimination?
  15. Religion and politics should not mix. True or false?
  16. Should religion be the parents’ choice or a personal one?
  17. All religions are equal. True or false?
  18. All religious schools should teach evolution.
  19. Every public school should teach the 10 Commandments. 
  20. Are Muslims discriminated the most compared to other religious groups?
  21. Wars are fought mainly because of religion. Agree or disagree?

Controversial Relationship Topics

Controversial Relationship Topics

Teenage years are confusing for many reasons. Teens are making crucial steps toward adulthood, questioning their roles in the family and among peers. They want to build their own identity, simultaneously wanting to be accepted and forming significant relationships within their peer group. Thus, teens will take discussions about controversial relationship topics seriously, share their opinions with peers, and seek answers to intriguing questions. 

  1. Is monogamy natural?
  2. Monogamy should remain the only socially acceptable form of relationship. Agree or disagree?
  3. In what ways can divorce harm children?
  4. Should dating between teachers be allowed?
  5. Should teens date older people?
  6. Is romantic love a precondition for a successful marriage?
  7. Should arguments in a relationship be avoided or encouraged?
  8. Should boys and girls have different roles in a relationship?
  9. Is it OK to have secrets in a relationship?
  10. Are long-distance relationships doomed to failure?
  11. Sex before marriage is wrong. True or false?
  12. Online dating. Benefits vs. shortcomings.
  13. Homosexual relationships are not natural. Agree or disagree?
  14. Should same-sex marriages be legal?
  15. Should LGBTQ people be allowed to adopt children?
  16. Is it acceptable for parents to use physical punishment to discipline children?
  17. Children thrive more in a two-parent family. Agree or disagree?
  18. How can teens recognize a sexual predator online?
  19. Is the television helping the family or not?
  20. Can homosexual parents be better than heterosexual ones?
  21. Negative vs. positive effects of corporal punishment on children.
  22. Should the state use force to take children away from drug-abusing parents for the sake of their safety?

Controversial Medical and Psychological Topics

Controversial Medical and Psychological Topics

Medical and psychological issues became the center of attention with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. It soon became clear that all generations should unite to fight this disease’s physical and psychological consequences. Teenagers were not an exception. A number of COVID-related topics can be used in debate classes to see what teenagers think about this health threat and how they cope with restrictive measures that have completely changed their ordinary life. Besides, there is an array of controversial medical issues regarding euthanasia, obesity, genetic engineering, and others.

  1. COVID-19 vaccines are sufficiently tested and safe. True or false?
  2. Is COVID-19 an artificial virus created in a laboratory?
  3. Should vaccination against COVID-19 be mandatory?
  4. In what cases should euthanasia be legalized?
  5. Does alternative medicine really work?
  6. Should healthcare be free and accessible to everyone?
  7. Can obesity be regarded as a disease?
  8. Is it healthy to circumcise children for religious reasons?
  9. Stem cell research is ethical. True or false?
  10. Medical malpractice deserves severe punishment. Agree or disagree?
  11. Should pharmaceutical companies be banned from overcharging life-saving drugs?
  12. Prescription drug manufacturers should be held responsible for the opioid crisis. Agree or disagree?
  13. Should cannabis be legalized for medical purposes worldwide?
  14. Should surrogate pregnancy be allowed only when health issues prevent natural pregnancy? 
  15. Gene editing should be used in humans.
  16. The sale of human organs should be legal. Agree or disagree?
  17. Genetic screening of embryos is legal. Agree or disagree?
  18. If you were a doctor, would you treat a school shooter?
  19. Can transgender be regarded as a gender identity disorder?
  20. Are antidepressants effective?
  21. Is ADHD a serious mental disorder?
  22. Can we look at drug abuse as a mental health issue?
  23. Is mental illness worse than a physical one?
  24. Should psychologists be allowed to prescribe drugs?
  25. Is prejudice against different people inherent?
  26. Medical “treatment” of homosexuality is unethical. Agree or disagree?
  27. Can people get addicted to social media?
  28. Is social media connecting us or making us more isolated?
  29. Can we expect an increase in depression and anxiety cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  30. Specific video games can cause violence. True or false?
  31. Can intelligence be inherited?

Controversial Science Topics

Controversial Science Topics

Science topics are often closely related to economic, social, or political issues. Politicians often misuse scientific findings on climate change, for example, to gain some political points. When the media treats scientific discoveries and political opinion equally, a controversy arises and causes heated debates. All this makes scientific debates appealing to teens, who want to show that they have valid arguments to enter the discussion on more serious “grown-up” issues. Here is a list of hot-button scientific topics that may motivate teenagers to start a debate.

  1. Scientists should always be objective. True or False?
  2. Corporations should fund various scientific research.
  3. Should science become an optional subject in schools?
  4. Why aren’t there more women scientists?
  5. STEM education is more valuable than training in the humanities. Agree or disagree?
  6. Should cryptocurrencies be regulated by legislation?
  1. Robots should have rights. Agree or disagree?
  2. Should people fear the power of AI?
  3. Is AI the next stage in evolution?
  4. Is advanced technology beneficial or harmful to the Earth?
  5. Can renewable sources of energy completely replace fossil fuels in the near future?
  6. How serious a threat to humanity can climate change be?
  7. Is cell phone radiation dangerous?
  8. Can humanity reverse the negative effects of climate change?
  9. Should electric cars become available to everyone?
  10. Nuclear energy is safe. True or false?
  11. Alien life exists. Agree or disagree?
  12. Climate change and global warming do not really exist. Agree or disagree?

Controversial Food and Nutrition Topics

Controversial Food and Nutrition Topics

Teenagers are fully aware of the immense gap between the rich and the poor, especially when it comes to food distribution. For this reason, they will gladly discuss the reasons why famine exists in some parts of the world, while people in developed countries waste food and struggle with obesity, especially among adolescents. 

Furthermore, teens are well aware of the numerous benefits of healthy nutrition and will gladly tackle these issues. Here are some of the burning topics about food and nutrition to discuss with teen students. 

  1. Genetically modified foods are harmful. True or false?
  2. Genetically modified foods should be labeled. Agree or disagree?
  3. Organic food vs. processed food.
  4. Fast food is the main culprit for obesity? Agree or disagree?
  5. Can we stop wasting food?
  6. Organic farming is sustainable.
  7. Grass-fed beef is better than corn-fed beef.
  8. Palm oil production is one of the main causes of deforestation. True or false?
  9. Can biotech foods save the world from hunger?
  10. Should nutrition classes be included in the school curriculum?
  11. A vegan diet helps the environment. Agree or disagree?
  12. Is it healthier to be vegetarian?
  13. An all-meat diet is healthy.
  14. Are various diets you can find online really effective?
  15. Does fasting have positive or negative effects on health?
  16. Are gluten-free diets overhyped?
  17. Are social media-distorted beauty “standards” directly responsible for the increase of eating disorders among teenage girls?
  18. Can someone become addicted to sugar?
  19. How unhealthy are artificial sweeteners?

Controversial Sports Topics

Controversial Sports Topics

Besides social media, music, and spending time with friends, sports play a significant role in a teenager’s life. This is why teens are easily engaged in discussing controversial sports topics. These topics do not require extensive research because some sports controversy land on the front pages every week. The issues can vary from kneeling during the national anthem to the demand for equal pay for male and female athletes. Whatever the case may be, teenagers have strong emotions and opinions about these debate topics.

  1. Performance-enhancing drugs should be allowed in sports. Agree or disagree?
  2. Are professional athletes overpaid?
  3. Professional athletes are good role models. True or false?
  4. Should college athletes receive a salary in addition to scholarships?
  5. College athletes should be tested for drugs the same professionals do.
  6. Can dance be regarded as a real sport?
  7. E-sports vs. real sports?
  8. Is bodybuilding a real sport?
  9. Should mixed martial arts and other harming sports be banned?
  10. Should female athletes compete against male athletes in sports?
  11. Should female and male athletes be paid equally?
  12. Should transgender athletes who became women compete in women’s sports?
  13. Positive and negative sides of hosting the Olympics.
  14. Do professional sports leave too many harmful effects on an athlete’s health?
  15. Should athletes who kneel during the anthem be penalized?
Cite this article as: Jim Peterson, "172 Controversial Debate Topics for Teens," in My Speech Class, April 7, 2021, https://www.myspeechclass.com/controversial-topics-teens.html.