Ever Wondered What Your Grandparent’s Teen Life Was Like?

By: Ali Sakr

Edited by: Malak Ezz

Sometimes you just can’t help but wonder if things used to be the same. Were there edgy teens back in the old days too? Or were rebels and misfits very different from what we consider to be rebellious? In some ways, you could consider our generation to be aliens compared to those a few decades ago, but in others, we’re carbon copies of them – just maybe with our own modern spice. Let’s take a trip back in time, and find out whether or not we’re so different from the teens of the past after all.

Our First Stop: the 1920s

This was a time -in many ways- surprisingly similar to ours, but in others not so much. From dancing to fashion, this decade had it all. While teen girls typically wore wool skirts, blouses, dresses and leather party shoes, boys wore suits and hats similar to those of adult men, and they continued to for around 30 years.

Entertainment started creeping into the picture, with the rise of automobiles – yes, cars – allowing teens to go out with their friends, and often even go on dates to the movies or just drive around for fun. This was the first decade they were allowed to have unsupervised dates, marking the start of some leniency. This wasn’t always the case, though, since some teens -often times more women than men- had to run away to get proper education or a job they deserved.

Then Came the 1930s

with The Great Economic Depression, bringing staggering rates of unemployment all around the world. While at first you’d think this would lead parents to encourage their children to find jobs at an early age, the effect was quite the opposite. The importance of education skyrocketed,and almost all teens were now enrolled in high school.

Fashion and music continued with the momentum they acquired in the last decade, but dating and cars fell behind, since there was barely enough money to keep teens in school let alone buy them cars and help them pursue their love life.

The Calm before the Storm: the 1940s

This decade was only figuratively calm, since there was a little issue arising at the time, known as the first world war. This lead to barely any change in the image of teenagers, as people were less focused on societal aspects of their lives and more on actually living. There was still an effect on teens, however, as many were sent off to fight for their countries or forced to help in any ways they could, sprouting an antiwar opinion among the crowds.

Not to mention of course, the stereotypes that were enforced into teens in this decade and all those past, which include girls being taught to favour marriage over finding a job.

The Beginning of Rebellion: the 1950s

Teens are now encouraged to go to college. The denim revolution began, with boys now favoring jeans over suits. Many famous figures such as Elvis Presley and Marylin Monroe presented new trends, such as women accepting more revealing clothing, as opposed to the more conservative clothes of the past. Teens now prefer cinemas over watching TV’s, and parents prefer the opposite – causing Hollywood to start catering to teenagers specifically. Parents hate rock music, and their kids love it. They’re finally starting to appear as a separate entity in society. They finally started to rebel.

The Societal Split: the 1960s

With their tight jeans, floral shirts and flip hairstyles, teens were embracing the sudden change in their society, and were no longer so seemingly perfectly blended in with the rest of the age groups. The 60s also saw the rise of self-discovery, with many teens grouping up together as goths, geeks and many other stereotypes/subcultures which allowed them to feel more in place. Starting to sound familiar, huh ?

There’s also the fact that teens in the 60s were quite pessimistic due to the world war that came a few years before them, and so wanted to experience their lives to the fullest, even if that meant doing some things that were considered quite inappropriate in the past. Teen rebellion at its finest.

Enter the 1970s, Skating by

The 70s marked a rapid change in values. Drugs were shown openly in movies and on TV, and were much more prominent in the lives of teenagers than they were in the past with quite a few teens at the time smoking weed and drinking alcohol. Some schools even went so far as to have smoking areas for students.

“In California, where I grew up, many of our parents were part of the drug culture, leftover from when they were in college.  I think that played into pot, cigarettes, and alcohol being so pervasive amongst the teens in the later 1970’s, at least in CA.”

On the other hand, this decade was considered one of freedom, and possibly the last in which it was relatively easy to be a teenager.

It’s Time for the 80s

Tastes in music started changing, with the birth of early rap and rise in popularity of artists like Ice Cube and Tupac. The teen image that had now been formed for around 20 years persisted, though there were many differences from the times we live in now. Social issues such as bullying were considered very normal, and no authorities would be called when they happened, not to mention the general public’s view on therapy, which at the time considered teens who went to psychiatric therapy “nuts” – leading to them getting bullied as well.

Here We Go with those 90’s Kids Again

As we approach the present, so too do the traits of society. It was the rise of the music we still love today, drugs were still around, though less apparent due to anti-drug movements and research that exposed how harmful they were, and lastly there was grunge everywhere.

It was also considered cool to have groups of two to five best friends. This one is pretty damn random but I guess you kind of see that now too? No? Ok.

It’s a New Millenium: the 2000s

So now we’ve got it all. Emo’s, indie’s, hip hop and pop exploded with just about every other music genre because of the now widely accessible array of songs all teens had, because of the little invention called the internet. Autotune also became a thing.

Other than music, we here witness the start of something we all know very dearly – social media.

Our Final Stop: the 2010s

Teens have now reached peak daringness, expressing any and all opinions they have regardless of social norms and traditions. They use satire and sarcasm more than they don’t, and love using humor to express how sad they are. They’re often told they don’t understand anything about politics and “adult talk”, inspite of knowing so much because of our old friend, the internet. This was the decade where teens get to witness the complexities of modern politics, along with the social media revolution with all the awareness it brings with it. It’s also where we end our trip, and try to decipher what the hell just happened.


So have teens really changed so much across the years? Well you’ve just seen a glimpse of it yourself, and yeah, they kind of have. I think, though, that only one thing has changed, and that this thing is what makes it seem like we’re so different – exposure. A teen growing up in the 70s, raised in a very conservative family, going to a high-class school would know nothing of the drugs around them, simply because they’ve never come in contact with any. Nowadays, you don’t need to do drugs or see them in real life to know they exist, and we can thank the internet for that. In both cases, the existence of drugs is independent of knowing they exist. The 70s wouldn’t be any better if fewer people knew about the drugs but the same number of people did them.

Besides, the sheer amount of external information we are subjected to on a daily basis is astounding, so is it really that much of an unexpected change to react to this information more vocally? Wouldn’t have all the previous generations done the same? We’re constantly told how the media is corrupting our generation, when in fact it’s only showing everything that’s been hidden across the years.

So finally, yes, in many ways we’ve changed. And yes, in many other ways, we’ve stayed the same. This isn’t because we’re all some collective consciousness which needs to be deciphered. It’s because our surroundings changed in many ways, and they also stayed the same in many others. You could say that the way we think is a product of the time we live in, but that would be admitting we all think the same. I think it’s at least safe to say we’re still as awkward as ever, though. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed for sure.

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