The Invention that created the “Teenage” Phenomenon

Teenagers in a retro car

People have been turning 13 since the time of Adam, but the population around the world was classified into children, adults, and elderly until the 19th century. While children were struggling with the knocking of adulthood, the parents wanted to provide them a soothing, joyous, and harmonious childhood. Despite going through this phase, parents were unable to understand the struggles and needs of the younger adults. The bridge from childhood to adolescence was termed as “teenager" and the phenomenon started getting attention in the 1920s. There were few instances the term “teenager” was used by the popular press even until World War II. Even historical novels by famous writers had main characters of very young ages, mostly teenagers. Even Romeo and Juliet were 13 in the famous romance novel.

The invention of teenagers made it easier to understand the psyche of these people. They are biologically different from the rest of the world. The teenagers have loosely connected frontal lobes (i.e. the decision center of the brain), and an enlarged nucleus accumbens (i.e. the pleasure center of the brain). These chemical differences make them different, rebellious, risk-takers, and to some extent dangerous.

But do you know what led to the emergence of independent teenagers?

Let’s discuss the invention that created the teenage phenomenon!

Invention of Car

The biggest factor that led to the invention of the “teenage phenomenon” was automobiles. The invention of cars and their increasing household use gave teenagers an escape from the 24/7 parental supervision prevailing for centuries. The dating culture was way different from what it is today and not less than horror for today’s singles. When a boy wanted to go on a date, he used to go to the girl’s house, meet her in front of her parents, have dinner with her family, and finally, they were given a chance to take a walk around the neighborhood or enjoy some time together in the front porch.

But cars changed the dating traditions of old times, and teenagers got involved in sexual activities that were considered a heinous act earlier. Cars made “Sex” and “date” a normal practice. There’s a famous song of 1909 by Irving Berlin titled “Keep Away from the Fellow Who Owns an Automobile”.

For decades, coming to an age in America meant driving an automobile. A driver’s license was a trademark of transition from dependent child to a responsible adult and was considered a gateway to freedom. It was a more important milestone than legal drinking and voting rights. It was the initiation of their adult world, they could meet friends, pick up their dates, and making out in “parking”.

Child Labor and High Schools

Automobile or Cars aggravated other important factors too. Schoolhouses were shifted to proper institutions that were situated farther from their homes. Cars/Buses led to the culture of consolidated high schools, which fostered the teenage phenomenon. Children were considered adults when they got a job and had mouths to feed. They used to become farmers or work in factories or construction sites to help their parents. This led to awareness about child labor and from 1920-1936, and thus public schools were made compulsory for the general public. This percentage of teenagers going to high school increased from 30% to 60%.

The need for longer education started rising. More years were added to compulsory education. This resulted in a large number of young adults or “teenagers” put together in a commonplace. They started bonding on the basis of their interests, needs, and commonalities. School started focusing on extra-curricular activities along with education and teenagers started enjoying this phase of their life without any interruption by their parents or worrying about getting a job. They started making independent decisions, and choices, which made them the target of the worried older generation. They were considered rebellious, wild, and even prospective criminals.

Economic Advancement

The invention of cars led to economic advancements and women’s education, which increased awareness about birth control, recreation, quality of life, basic human needs and rights, etc. People started to revolve their life and marriage around children and their future. They started spending money on teenager’s vacations, summer camps, tutors, and sports, etc.

World War II

The concept of the teen was actually born when the term was used by The New York Times when it published a ground-breaking article in 1945, titled “A Teen-Age Bill of Rights”. This article published an outline of a 10-point set of rights for teens. It was written for the rights of teenagers that returned from World War II and had to face the aftermath of it. The article was sort of an instruction manual for the parents of teenagers.

By the 1950s, “teenage” became a phenomenon and their activities started were questioned at the national level. In 1953, an FBI report warning was published by J. Edgar Hoover saying that the number of crimes committed by teenagers will rise in the coming years. Similarly, Fredric Wertham blamed comic books for spoiling teenagers. He even said that comics books are short courses for teenagers in robbery, rape, sex, murder, sadism, and many other crimes.

Demographic change & Modern World

The world has changed now, the new luxuries and economic growth led to abundant leisure time for teens. Teenagers are the center of attention in today’s world. Companies have been searching for trends, interests, and needs of teenagers to offer products or services they need. The teenager term is believed to be recognized by product marketers before anyone else. The high school culture led to teen fashion. They wanted to look cool and stylish and started experimenting with their looks. The teenagers turned from a threat and awkward youth to potential demographics and their spending patterns changed the market culture. Teenagers changed the patterns of music, styles, fashion, clothing, accessories, and technology. By the 1980s and 1990s, teenagers started spending lavishly on brands like Ralph Lauren.

ALSO READ: The History Of Vehicle License Plates

The teenagers were not considered crazy anymore instead they were viewed more as “cool people”. Being cool meant breaking the mainstream in a legitimate way. 

The introduction of the web and apps changed the logo of teen identity. Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook have made teenagers expressive and up-to-date. The flow of money has changed the market demographics and spending patterns of teenagers. The once-neglected age group has now become the focus group around the world!

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