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The History of Teenagers

Steve Wickham

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We don't tend to think in terms these days of anything other than a stage of life called ‘the teen years, ’ thought it appears that at least some of the population choose to refuse teens their unique role in today's society-that they actually are different.

I was flicking through Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages of Teenagers recently when it walked right into a short history of the term ‘teenager’ and how this phase of life actually came about. Prior to the Great Depression in the 1930s there was no opportunity for people of teen ages to act like teenagers-they would usually end up very quickly in the workforce with the industrial revolution in full swing. With the huge unemployment teens suddenly found themselves redundant to society.

US President Roosevelt engineered the National Youth Administration (NYA) and finishing high school suddenly became the reality for the majority of kids who would've otherwise gone straight to work. The public high school “created the social setting for developing a separate ‘teenage culture. '"[1] This culture has been part of Western society ever since and probably always will be.

The ‘public identity’ of teens became, for the first time, something completely different to the “family life and adult responsibilities, " which was the traditional way. Music, dancing and fun were soon on the radar and a language and fashion their very own emerged. Most of our grandfathers and grandmothers were exposed to the very same sort of culture that our teens are today!

There have been many authority figures who've advised parents to ‘immunise’ their teen children from the teen culture; it seems that some immunisation is a good idea but cautioned exposure should be a good thing. I'm unsure whether wrapping kids up in cotton wool is a good idea. It's good to encourage them and train them to think for themselves around the natural consequences for their actions.

Teens are different. Isn't it good that they challenge conventional ideals? The truth should be able to stand for itself, and adults ought to be able to respond to barbs and rebellion in mature ways. Parenting teens is hard work and anyone venturing into this territory should heed the fact that teens will test the most mature of parents and guardians. The best advice is to ‘get equipped’ to do the job the best we can. Knowledge is power. Chapman's book is an excellent start.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, (Chicago, Illinois: Northfield Publishing, 2000), p. 254.

Steve Wickham is a safety and health professional (BSc) and a qualified lay Christian minister (GradDipDiv). His key passion is work / life balance and re-creating value for living, and an exploration of the person within us.


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