Today’s daily desk copy request: Thomas Hine’s The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager for an American studies class on “the teen in America.”
I know, I know. Looking at this cover, it’s hard not envy one of these groups of teens, what with their matching hat-wear and those super cool “life has broken me” expressions.
You may be wondering how our society, which once produced these musket-toting, chain-smoking, factory-working pillars of youthful exuberance could now play host to millions of chiffon-coated, coddled adolescents, who, when faced with the simplest of challenges—the “what do I do with my hands in pictures?!??” thing—have failed en masse. Well, according to historian Thomas Hine, the New Deal played a big part. With children getting pushed out of the workforce to make more jobs available to family men, a new, socially constructed concept of “teenager-hood” began to take hold in American culture, validated by psychologists like G.S. Hall who viewed adolescence as a completely separate life-period when non-children, so beset by stress and hormones and bad decision-making processes, could also not be called adults. So the next time your overly-indulged children scream “I hate you!” when you’ve just been trying to get them downstairs for the beautiful meal you prepared, you can give a silent, sardonic “thank you” to FDR and dream of the good ole’ days when teenagers took on their rightful roles as cogs in the American industrial assembly line.