01 May 2008

Families & Children: The American Teenager

By Delia DeLeest

The turn of the twentieth century brought many changes to the American family structure. A World War I song summed it up best: "How You Gonna' Keep 'Em Down on the Farm After They've Seen Paree?" No longer were young people content to stay at home, following in their parent's and grandparent's footsteps. With the emergence of affordable phonograph records, automobiles and media such as books and magazines, America's young were given an exposure to the world their ancestors had never experienced. Due to the prosperous economy, a high school education was no longer an impossible dream. Children did not have to drop out at an early age to help their parents on the farm, but could continue to go on to school, thus exposing them to others their own age more regularly.

This combination of events created what is commonly known as: The American Teenager.

Spending time with their friends made America's youth aware of what others their age were wearing, what music they were listening to and how they were dancing...and it was nothing like what their elders were doing. The first generation gap had formed.

Previously, people went directly from being children to adults, there was no in-between. Adults could go to the same public event and be comfortable with square dancing, waltzes and any of the other popular dances. But with the arrival of Jazz music, the high-energy Charleston and those daring clothes, the young set themselves apart from those that came before them. Not only that, but with a Model T sitting in driveways across the country, they had the opportunity to go farther and meet more people than ever before, which only spread the culture farther.

Parents couldn't understand the slang language their children were using and were shocked and dismayed at their sons' wide-bottom trousers and daughters' rolled stockings and exposed knees. Instead of staying home and visiting in the parlor like they did during their courting days, their offspring were piling in automobiles, singing rowdy songs and seeing how many of them could fit inside a Studebaker or taking part in a four day dance marathon. Those wild, undisciplined children with their horrible manners, goofy clothes and awful music were going to cause the world to go to wrack and ruin. Sound familiar?