BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER
How did teenagers become a distinct demographic group in the 1950s?
In the early 20th century, the period between childhood and adulthood was simply called adolescence, a passing phase between the two main periods in one’s life. But in the postwar period, this age cohort – now known as teenagers – developed a distinct identity and established itself as an important demographic group that would come to have enormous influence on American life.
Because of the postwar economic boom, many white, middle-class teenagers had more leisure time and more spending power than previous generations of young people. If they held jobs, they were increasingly able to keep their earnings rather than contribute them to the support of the family, as they generally did in early generations. American business soon realized the enormous potential of this emerging market, gearing advertising of everything from soda pop to cars in order to cash in on teens’ growing purchasing power. Companies in every segment of the entertainment world -- records, radio, television, movies – were not far behind. Recognizing the affinity of this new demographic for Rock and Roll, they soon shaped a mass-market phenomenon out of what in the early 1950s had been a music confined to a handful of stations aimed at African-American listeners.
In this lesson, students will investigate how teenagers became a distinct demographic group with its own identity in the postwar years, and, in turn, how their influence helped push Rock and Roll into the mainstream. In so doing, they helped secure Rock and Roll’s place as the most important popular music of the 20th century.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
1. Explain to students that they will be seeing a series of images depicting teenagers before World War II and in the 1950s. For each set of images, you will ask a series of questions. Instruct students to write down their observations on Handout 1: Comparing Images and Documents About Teenagers.
2. Show Comparison 1 on the board: The first image is a photograph of a factory girl, aged 14 or 15, taken by photographer Lewis Hine in Massachusetts in 1911. The second image is of teens in Boston in the late 1940s.
4. Show Comparison 2 on the board:
Average weekly income of a teenage boy (allowance plus job earnings)
Source: Time magazine, “Bobby-Soxers’ Gallup,” Aug. 13, 1956
10. Distribute Handout 2: an excerpt from the Life magazine article, “A New, $10 Billion Power: The U.S. Teen-age Consumer,” published Aug. 31, 1959.
11. Show photograph from the Life magazine article illustrating the kinds of goods teens purchased in the 1950s on the board.
12. Have the class read the article out loud, with a new student reading each paragraph.
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Core Music Standard: Responding
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.