Changes in teens’ lives illustrated by old newspaper

August 3, 2018

Occasionally, a really interesting piece of snail mail arrives. Recently, a childhood friend sent me a copy of our now ancient 1951 junior high school newspaper. The junior high was composed of seventh-and eighth-graders, which was then a more common arrangement than today’s middle school. The 67-year-old one-page school newspaper is a wonderful reminder how different young teens’ lives and expectations were in the mid-20th century.

The paper had a brief section on “Girls’ Sports.” Other than mandatory gym classes, girls weren’t offered many opportunities to play any type of sports. The student writer noted that there was hope for, but obviously no guarantee of, kickball and softball teams for girls that year. It would be 21 years before Title IX was enacted and determined that, for the first time, girls would have opportunities to play their choice of many well-organized sports. Today, female students want and expect to have a variety of intramural and competitive sports in their schools and universities.

Another section of the paper reported that the PTA sponsored a “Better Brotherhood Among Men” assembly awarding first and second prizes of $10 and $5 (big money in those days) for essays and poems that encouraged acceptance and understanding of different religions. We could use more of that today.

An eighth-grade girl, who clearly had adopted the views of the adults of the day, wrote an essay that began by noting that “A normal teen-ager today must be capable of many responsibilities pertaining to the home.” She suggested that teens should help wash and dry dishes at least three times a week. The latter activity was to prepare girls to know how to cook and keep house when they get married. Girls were encouraged to only enter the work force until they could secure a husband. That was definitely a time when a women’s place was in the house ... and not the Senate.

Young people were also advised that their parents would trust them more if they were honest about where, with whom and to what activity they were going. Parent-teen conflict issues have changed today, but the teen desire for independence remains.

The eighth-grade talent show highlighted some dance, vocal and instrumental music performances. Interestingly, some of those students went on to careers and long-term hobbies using those skills.

Cellphones and computers weren’t even a thought, but the traditional phone was the teens’ life link to the world. The young writer suggested limiting phone time to no more than one hour per day. Today’s teens would feel that such a restriction would be inhumane.

The newspaper reminded students about the importance of the “Traffic Squad.” At that time, many schools had three floors and student monitors were appointed to ensure safety so that masses of kids didn’t collide while going “up the down staircase” and vice versa. “Up the Down Staircase” written by Bel Kaufman, became a best-seller in 1964 and became a catchphrase to illustrate some of the inane school administration issues of the day.

No doubt, kids today wish that their only concerns were the safety of going up and down stairways. Never in our wildest dreams, or nightmares, did students consider gunfire and murder as realities in school buildings.

Today’s student newspapers, even in middle schools, often include more serious issues facing the students, but this 6-decade-old eighth-grade newspaper offers an interesting time capsule of some changes in teens’ lives.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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