Drape pants aren’t any more sinister than the New Look, and love’s still a serious business at 17 Don’t brush off your teen-ager’s problems
WHY DON’T ADULTS GROW UP?
Mary Lou Dilworth (21) Asks
Drape pants aren’t any more sinister than the New Look, and love’s still a serious business at 17 Don’t brush off your teen-ager’s problems
LAST WEEK a pretty 17-year-old high-school girl dropped into my office at Canadian High News with a chip on her shoulder. When I asked what she planned to do when she left school I knocked the chip off.
“How am I supposed to figure that out?” she snapped. “I’m really worried about it, but a nice lot of help I get from my family or their friends. They seem to think I’m still an infant. As soon as I get serious and try to ask them anything they brush me off. So here I am—nowhere, with only a while before I’m through school.”
If you want to remain in your safe little shell that’s okay by me, but that 17-year-old has just brought up one more point that prompts nie to ask, “Why don’t you adults grow up?”
For the past 10 years or so you have shown a terrific upsurge of interest in teen-agers. You’ve written or read books about The Youth Problem Today, and How To Deal With the Adolescent; your newspapers and radio programs have screamed juvenile delinquency to the world—and you’ve eaten it up. In fact, when it comes to pointing out what’s wrong with youth, everybody tries to get into the act.
Sure, there are quite a few things wrong with the younger generation—always were, always will be. But what about the older generation’s attitude to the younger generation?
On the all too few occasions that you adults discuss anything of real importance with them you use only yourselves as the ideal examples of successful living. How they look, how they act, how they think, what they wear—even how they love—must all fall into your patterns, before they are “correct.”
But take a good look at your own generation, adults. Yours is the generation of women who are frustrated and unhappy because your whole life centres around a soap opera and gossip existence. Yours is the generation of men who are constantly dissatisfied with your jobs and yet haven’t the will power to take a chance on changing them. You are the people who buy the clothes labeled New Look and yet berate your children for their ridiculous fads. You are the people who know all about love and yet are responsible for Canada’s divorce rate doubling from 20.8 to 44.9 per 100,000 population in the last 10 years.
Yet, adults, take a good look at your attitude toward this coming generation. Are you in any position to point an accusing finger at the faults of youth? Are you giving youth the leadership and guidance it really needs?
You may wonder what business of mine your attitude toward teen-agers is. Perhaps none. But teen-agers are my business. As the managing editor of Canadian High News—a weekly newspaper read by about 50,000 high-school students —I know them pretty well. And I think your state of mind toward them would undergo a few abrupt changes if you could hear their opinions on many things which concern you.
Teen-ager’s questions, the doubts and opinions come into our offices on foot, by phone, and by mail.
Part of my job for the last four years has been handling a lovelorn column in the paper, but a great many of the letters I receive probe much deeper than mere passing affairs of the heart.
Take a look at a couple of these picked at random from the mail this week.
. My mother won’t let me go to our school formal with this boy because she saw him wearing a pair of brightly colored ‘drapes’; she says anybody who wears them is nothing but a hoodlum. How can I convince her that he’s really a nice boy whom everybody likes? . ”
“ . I’m going to college in the fall and want to take engineering. I took an aptitude test at school and, if that’s any indication, I’m supposed to be well suited for it, too. But Dad has always wanted me to study law and is insisting that, unless I do, I’ll get no financial Continued on page 50
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help from him. Isn’t there some way I can show him that I’ve got to live my own life? Right now I don’t think he’d ever forgive me if I didn’t follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer .
There is a steady stream of letters like these arriving on my desk, letters which wouldn’t have needed to be written if a lot of adolescent adults had grown up.
One of the most frequent problems is sex. Here’s a typical letter written by a high-school junior that should give you some idea of the ignorance you’re fostering.
“ My Mom and Dad are oldfashioned, I guess, but they still should understand that 1 've got to know something sooner or later. I don't dare ask them anything about sex. I did once and they were horrified. Why, Mom even bawled me out for reading an article by a well-known doctor about sex education. She said nice girls don’t even think about such things
'Phis is not an isolated example; it
seems to be the popular adult attitude.
Just the other day I had an afterclasses discussion with a group of highschool students. The conversation swung around to sex education and I asked one of the fellows if his Dad had told him anything about sex.
“Are you kidding?” he grimaced. “I tried asking my old man about the birds and the bees just once. All I got out of him was that the birds were the ones with feathers'”
Where do these kids learn their “facts”?—in locker rooms, restaurants after school, on street corners. As far as many adults are concerned all the advice from doctors and psychologists on giving children proper sex education early seems to have gone in one ear and out the other.
What about the young people preparing to enter the world of business soon? Their success in finding the right job and making good at it depends a lot on you. They haven’t any experience to fall back on. They need suggestions on opportunities, on behavior, and on the correct attitude to take toward a job. Right now they’re being shortchanged by a lot of older people who can't be bothered lending a helping hand. And to add insult to injury a lot
of these young people are being berated about their “lack of ambition,” because they haven’t been able to decide on a future vocation.
One fellow who was in the office a couple of weeks ago asked, “What do adults think we’re doing anyway? Flaying pin the tail on the donkey? I want to see where I’m going when I choose my career, and I’m darned if I’ll get into a rut like my Dad’s in. He’s never enjoyed his job and yet he hasn’t enough will power to get out of it and into something he does like. He made a bum choice to start with.”
Oh—Those Good Old Days!
I asked if his mother couldn’t offer some advice, but he snorted, “Huh! She can’t tear herself away from soap operas long enough to give it any thought. But what gets me is that both of them are continually harping on the fact that I haven’t made up my
He isn’t the only one whose future is undecided; there are thousands of teens just like him. At times you adults remark that they seem to have “a lot on the ball,” but that still doesn't stop you from brushing them off. What
do these teens have to do to get your help? Or could your own juvenile attitude toward their problems be the trouble?
I’ve had at least a dozen students ask what they could do to eliminate continual lectures that usually begin: “Now when I was your age ” followed by a recital of the social behavior of the 1920s. Even the best behavior in the “good old days” wasn’t necessarily something today’s adults used to follow, either.
All too many teens have heard a proud father boast about what a “heller” he was in his college days. Yet these same fathers throw up their hands in disgust and lament, "What is this generation coming to?” when daughter gets caught up in a new romance, or son wants to borrow the car for dates a couple of nights a
This lack of understanding is partially responsible for u boomerang. Take a look at the headlines of your newspaper “Two Youths Charged With Drunken Driving” appears on page one; flip the page and you find “Police Arrest 16-year-old for Theft.” By the time you’ve read through from
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front to back you’ll have seen many more sensationalized stories about juvenile delinquency. And they’re written because you want to read them. It gives you something juicy to talk about when you run out of conversation. You are not concerned with the reasons why young people turn to crime. Instead, you adopt a pious, holier-than-thou attitude and condemn these young people for becoming troublesome.
A Nice Lady Suggested Jail
I overheard two women chattering on the streetcar about “all these young hoodlums ’ that are on the loose nowa-
“Why, it isn’t safe for respectable people to be on the streets after dark any more,” one of them simpered. “You don’t know what these young ruffians will do when they band together like that!”
“Oh, I know,” gushed her companion. “Why, 1 was reading in the paper just the other day about three young fellows who’d been caught trying to break into a house on the block next to ours. I think they should jail all the hoodlums who are making trouble. That would teach them a lesson.”
But crime doesn’t just happen. There has to be a cause. You may be content to say that jail is the only cure, but can you expect the police to cure your broken homes and unhappy marriages which have provided the real seed and soil for the weeds of delinquency? This is where the problems of youth begin and will continue to grow until you adults stop shouting about your particular cure for the trouble and start looking closely at the cause.
This business of classing every boy who wears bright drapes as a hoodlum is so much nonsense. These lads wear them simply because they are a part of the current teen-age fashion, a necessary piece of attire if they want to be one of the crowd. In fact, a great number of the fads which develop among high-school students are perpetuated because everybody wants to fit in, and not be ignored by the social order present in most high schools. Haven’t women been changing their skirt lengths for exactly the same reason?
One young fellow, who’s just in his first year at high school, wrote me a heartbreaking letter not long ago. Here’s part of it: “I’ve been turned
into the ‘goat’ of our class now and I don’t know what to do. It’s all because of the clothes Mom and Dad get me to wear to school. They insist that I always put on a tie and wear a vest and suit coat, even though none of the other guys do. I asked them if I
couldn’t get a pair of drapes to wear ’cause everybody else had them, but all I got was a bawling out for asking. They tell me I should be grateful for what they buy me, but it’s awfully hard to thank them when all the fellows call me ‘Hey, Rube.’ I’ve hardly got any friends at school and I know it’s just because of my clothes . .”
Many other teens have voiced similar problems about the clothes they are forced to wear. There’s a girl who has to wear oxfords even if she’s going to a dance; another who isn’t allowed to wear sweaters; a boy who must always wear dark brown or black ties. These teens shouldn’t be unhappy misfits if their parents took their deep concern about making friends at school into account when buying them clothes. Certainly it would be foolish for parents to cater to every whim of their children. Rut do you need to fall over backward the other way with your standby remark, “I don’t care what the other kids are wearing, you’re going to wear this”?
Boys today are far more fashionconscious than most people realize. Their efforts to appear more smartly dressed than the generation before them, though, are severely handicapped by adultswhofind this just too funny for words. Not long ago a group of boys began agitation for fashion shows previewing the latest young men’s apparel. There are always plenty of girls’ shows, so why not a few for boys?
Ridicule in an Editorial
When this male interest in the world of fashion became known an editorial writer in one of Canada’s largest papers ridiculed this desire for information. He wrote: “It’s a crying shame— we feel a little moist around the eyes as this is written—to learn that . male teen-agers have been eating their hearts out for fashion shows and no one has been paying them the slightest heed. Think, if you can bear it, of the poor youth who must struggle on from day to day never sure if he is a figure of high fashion or low comedy in his Kelly-green slacks and black satin jacket. In such a state of pitiful uncertainty he is liable to grow up (for the sake of argument, it is presumed he will grow up) with some horrible psychological quirk.”
No doubt many readers got a good laugh. Yet these same readers found nothing laughable about the Canadian Men’s Apparel Fair showing adult male fashions? No ridiculing “humorous” editorials appeared in newspapers following these men’s shows—they were simply taken for granted. Faced with contradictions like this is it any wonder I ask, “Why don’t you adults grow
Young people even have a hard time falling in love these days without receiving ridicule from adults.
Too many parents, when they hear their offspring say they’re in love, immediately remark, “Don’t be silly! What do you know about love?” Well, for that matter, what do a lot of parents know about it? Most adults pass judgment on teen-age love affairs from the armchair of 20 years ago.
I received a pathetic letter in the mail today from a girl named Joan whose mother had put a milk bottle out on the veranda just as Joan was kissing her boy friend good night. After one horrified gasp mother sternly ordered Joan into the house and the boy was told to “never darken their doorstep again.” This is the type of “understanding” that some young people are getting from their “wise” elders.
Bickering in the House
I’ve got another letter from a 19year-old girl who wants to marry a lad she’s been dating all through high school.
“We love each other very much,” she wrote, “but Mom and Dad seem : to think we can’t. When I told them they said, ‘Your father and I didn’l get married until we were in our 30s. until we were sure.’ But if that’s their idea of being ‘sure’ I don’t want any
“For as long as I can remember there’ve been continual fights and bickering at our house. Mom and Dad never seem happy together and don’t enjoy each other’s company at all. They almost never go out together, and when they’re home they always find something to start a fight about.
“I want my married life to mean more than theirs. I don’t think they love each other much, so how can they tell me what love is?”
The bickering and the unhappiness this girl cites are not unusual. Hers is not the only home constantly in conflict because two adults have failed to get along with each other. Yet these same adults consider themselves prepared to give advice to young people about what love is, and whom they should marry.
Teen-agers are faced with many problems before they step into the adult world and they need your help to solve them. But as long as you take nothing hut your own faulty patterns of living into consideration how can you expect the growing genera tion to be satisfied?
Your adult advice is only valuable if you have ‘‘grown up” yourselves—and from where teens are sitting right now your prejudiced ideas and lack of understanding are doing more harm than good. -jr
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