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⤹ the death of teenhood

Hello hello! This is Zabeth with another blog for this week. I know I wasn't able to post last week and in order to make up for that I prepared two blog posts for today! This is the first and this topic for me really hits for the way that I am already watching the disappearance of a genre of our childhood that the next generation won't be able to experience. I only spent a few hours on this blog (compared to the other one) so this may involve a lot of personal thought and a lot of "I's" but I mean what I say with no harm. Without further ado, Enjoy Reading!~

The Death of Teenhood

There has been a shift in the teen experience and the development of teenagers in the context of social media. Teenagers are exposed to a lot nowadays and seem to be under a lot of pressure to grow up fast and almost compete with adults.

The decline in teen spaces, teen-oriented media, teen fashion, and overall general youth culture has really changed the way that teenagers find community and identity. Stores like Justice, Hollister, Aeropostale, and even malls in general (which also serve as a third space) have gone almost extinct with the rise of online shopping, Amazon, and online fashion trends that stem from TikTok.

There aren't too many teen-oriented spaces where teenagers can just be themselves and be their age and develop in an organic way that isn't directly tied to internet and social media culture.

Today, I really want to dive into the death of teenhood and tweenhood, but first, we have to talk about the origins of teenhood because being a teenager was not a thing up until the 20th century. The term teenager was first introduced to the American public in the 1940s as a moniker coined by advertising executives looking to sell their products to a new audience.

So, it's interesting that the origins of teenhood were essentially made up by companies to create a new demographic to sell things to.

This creature is a mid-20th-century phenomenon, and almost everything has changed since the early 1900s when it emerged. Are teenagers still necessary? And that's a really important question which I think has really shaped this post. What is the purpose of the teenager? What is a teenager today and how has it changed from the original definition of a teenager? Because the teenager is really just a product of consumerism. But there was a time when there was such a rich culture around adolescence and teenhood.

And I want to differentiate the difference between teenhood and adolescence because the teenager is marked as the emancipation of adolescence. I explained this poorly, but basically, an adolescent is someone who's going through puberty, experiencing puberty. You could be 10 years old, 11 years old, 12 years old in your adolescence and into your teen years. But a teenager is specifically someone who is 13 to 19.

A teenager is essentially a construct created by consumerism. We're really questioning teenagehood, the purpose of it, not adolescence itself. Being a teenager is, as he said, a false identity meant to short-circuit the quest for a real one by giving people superficial roles to play.

Advertising, the mass media, and even the schools confuse young people and leave them dissatisfied and open to sales pitches that promise a deepening of identity. "You're a teenager, you'll like this." "If you're within this age group, then you should buy this." But the origins of the teenager started in the 1940s and was a result of a few things.

One being the Great Depression and the workforce and how it was affected by the Great Depression. Because there was an increase in restrictions on child labor and that had happened a few years prior during the 1930s. What was different was that after 1941 when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, virtually all young people were thrown out of work as a part of public policy to reserve jobs for men trying to support families.

Businesses could actually be fined if they kept childless young people on their payrolls. And because children were working less, they had a lot of time on their hands. So what would they do during the day? They went to school. And this is when high schools started to become a lot more popular and more kids were attending school full-time.

Despite high schools being around for about a hundred years prior, the first high school that had opened was in 1821 in Boston. And so once attending high school became more popular and normalized in day-to-day life for young people, of course, this created communal space for people of the same age to socialize. And this started to build the foundation of teen identity and teen culture.

As a result, a larger number of teenagers were thrown into a common space than ever before. It was only natural that discussions about commonalities would occur. Before long, schools developed their own cultural patterns completely unlike the childhood or adult experience. School athletics and extracurricular activities only enhanced this nascent culture. The American teenager was born. And lastly, the automobile actually had a lot to do with the emergence of teenhood and teen culture. Since the invention of the automobile, buses became a thing. And buses allowed for larger groups of people to be transported from point A to point B. And so more kids were able to go to school because of this transportation.

And you know, groups of kids from different areas were able to come together and go to schools that were larger than like a small local schoolhouse for like a handful of children, which was the norm before. Teenagers being able to drive allowed them a lot more freedom, and they could, you know, go on dates and courtship evolved a lot from the automobile and being able to be more independent.

The courtship process rapidly evolved into dating. In earlier times, young boys and girls spent their first dates at home. Teenagers were given privacy, and a sexual revolution swept America. Experimentation with sexual behaviors before marriage became increasingly common. Young Americans were now able to look beyond their own small towns at an enlarged dating pool. So, teenagers now have a place to gather, to socialize, to learn. They've built the foundations of youth culture and now it's become a full-fledged identity that represents freedom, rebellion, and consumerism.

There's actually a book called Advertising and Marketing for Youth where American teenagers are considered the new jackpot market. And although this is based on American culture and history, even in England, we start to see these youth-led subcultures like Teds who were kind of Elvis-like. They had quiffs and had flick knives, and they were a part of the working class of London circa 1950s. Then we had the Mods, Skinheads, and Punks. The 1950s were marked by the emergence of a distinct teen culture seeking to distance themselves from the culture of their parents.

Teenagers turned to rock and roll music and youth-oriented television programs and movies, all packaged for them through new marketing strategies targeting their demographic. It's interesting to see the difference in the teen youth subcultures that were emerging in the 1950s compared to teen subcultures now, because they're definitely not as distinct or prominent as they used to be.

I think the closest that teens have to these kinds of subcultures are like aesthetics. You know, like "Oh, you're cottagecore." "You're e-girl." Or "You're Barbiecore." Or "You're this or that." And there was a real sense of community and identity in these 1950s subcultures that you don't really see with these aesthetics today because they're just aesthetics. It doesn't really have anything to do with lifestyle or community.

Fashion historian Shelby Ivy Christie pinpoints the shift to one thing: it's that algorithm. She says, "It's wanting to belong and be positioned as cool. It's fed to twins. I think also now with the rise of these cores, they are not just pressured into choices, they're almost overpressured into identity. You have to belong to a core. What is your aesthetic? Who are you?"

Teen Media

I want to talk about the kind of evolution of teen film and TV because it wasn't really until the 1950s and 1960s where we started to see more teenage representation in film and TV. And we've seen a great array of teen media throughout the years and it's extremely influential on youth culture.

Movies personified above all by the bizarre boy-man Mickey Rooney and the Andy movies he began to make in the 1920s. His frequent co-star, Judy Garland, was part of the phenomenon too, as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." Garland was clearly a woman, not the girl everyone pretended she was. The tension between the maturity she feels and the childishness others see in her helps make the film more than a children's fantasy. It is an early pant expression of the predicament of the teenager.

The earliest teen films we see are movies like "Rebel Without a Cause," "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," "Teenager from Outer Space," and "Teenage Doll," which I'm obsessed with. These names could be a core in itself. Frankenstein Core, Teen Werewolf Core, Teenage Doll Core. That's basically Barbie Core, is it not? But where we really start to see the massive influence of youth culture and teenagehood on TV and film is in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s once Fox became a major network.

MTV is like, I think, the peak of teen media. I mean, that was the hub for pop culture and for teen culture. Then we had iconic teen films that still hold up today like "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty in Pink," "Sixteen Candles." TV shows like "The Facts of Life," "Different Strokes." Then moving into the 1990s, we had shows like "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," "My So-Called Life," "Daria," "Buffy," "Moesha," "Freaks and Geeks." Early 2000s, there was "One Tree Hill," "Dawson's Creek," "Gilmore Girls," "Gossip Girl."

Even award shows like the VMAs had such an iconic place in pop culture that we don't really see today. I mean, the VMAs are still going on, but I think the early 2000s era of the VMAs was just so iconic and is unmatched, and today's VMAs can't live up to that level of popularity.

But the reason that is is because, you know, the nature of television has changed so much with streaming and social media. I mean, back then, everybody was gathering around their TV at the same time to watch this event, and you would watch it with your friends and your families, and, you know, you would sit down in front of your TV to watch a music video debut on MTV, or you would watch your favorite pop star win a moonman and deliver a stellar, iconic performance that would define their career. Then go to school the next day and talk about it with your friends and your teachers. And because everybody was watching it, it was communal. It was universal. It was just special.

Award shows just aren't what they used to be, and teen TV shows definitely are not what they used to be. I'd say the most popular teen TV show these days is "Euphoria." "Euphoria" was/is a huge moment in pop culture for Gen Z. And then there was "Skins," which came a few years before. But I don't really see the same kinds of TV shows that we were getting in the early 2000s and even the 1990s, because "Euphoria," I mean, if you've seen it, you know it's a very heavy show. It's quite adult, honestly. And although, sure, "Euphoria" depicts realities for a lot of teenagers in America, I wouldn't say it's necessarily a universal experience. And it touches on very dark subjects. And we don't really get shows like "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" anymore. But I think that makes sense considering the way teens interact with the media today. Things are a lot heavier and darker and more adult.

And I think "Euphoria" kind of represents that change of, you know, teen media being more adult. There aren't dedicated teen networks for kids to watch relatable teen life content. And the last part of the teen media section I want to talk about is magazines, because magazines definitely have played a huge part in teen media and totally hopped onto the rise of the teenager very early on. "Seventeen" magazine being the first teen magazine to emerge in, I believe, the 1940s.

And then, of course, we have teen magazines like "Cosmo Girl," "Teen Vogue." Do people still buy teen magazines like that? I mean, people don't really buy magazines in general anymore, but I mean, are the 12-year-olds of today buying "J-14" and hanging up, like, I don't know, Olivia Rodrigo posters in their bedroom?

Teen Clothing

Where are they? Where have they gone? Where did kids shop? There used to be Justice, which is more of a tween, like an older child store, but still teen tween nonetheless. Wet Seal, Claire's, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hot Topic, Spencer's - all these stores have kind of gone out of style. I mean, I know people still shop at places like PacSun, but most teens these days shop at Lululemon or H&M. A study showed that 50% of teens cite Amazon as their number one favorite e-commerce site, with Shein, Lululemon, and PacSun taking spots through 3.

I think the main reason why we don't see teen-oriented clothing stores anymore is because of the decline of shopping malls. Most of the stores I mentioned, like Abercrombie & Fitch, were usually in shopping malls. Nowadays, most people shop online, like on Amazon for clothing. Additionally, with the rise of TikTok and the way it has shifted fashion trends, teenagers are more interested in following online clothing trends that young adults are wearing. Justice is with Walmart now, but we don't really see a lot of tween fashion brands anymore.

Trend forecaster Katherine Irving says, "I think that the teen market in general is such a tough transitional phase for kids, and stores are still finding it hard to navigate. The other thing is that customers are moving in and out quickly through the tween range, so you're constantly doing customer acquisitions. So it's just a little bit of a tricky area in the market. The tween market especially, I think, has kind of disappeared."

So, who is the tween girl, and what does she like? Because it's no longer glitter graphic tees with positive affirmations across the chest, nor is it something radically adult. The in-between and constant fluctuation of self is what has young people abandoning these staple stores and hence tween brands precipitously declining.

Cottagecore, Barbiecore, mermaidcore, preppy core - all these "cores" circulate on TikTok, giving impressionable teens a one-size-fits-all approach to style. When you're submerging yourself into the retail world as your own person for the first time, it can be the needed guidance to find individuality or affirmation from the masses.

For the most part, there weren't so many options, there weren't so many different aesthetics to choose from. There were like a handful of them. People dressed preppy, like maybe you shopped at Vineyard Vines, or you shopped at Hot Topic like me, or you went to Abercrombie & Fitch. But I don't remember feeling the same pressure of trying to find an aesthetic or a core to identify with. And it wasn't shoved down our throats back then as it is now with TikTok and everything.

Notably known brands targeting more mature clientele are becoming the staple shopping points for the younger crowd. The question arises: Will pre-teen fashion eventually die out? Will this homogeneous fashion movement become the norm? And will it be customary for a 7 and 17-year-old to roam the same aisles?

Speaking of shopping malls, I want to talk about third spaces because I think the lack of third spaces is a real issue for everybody, but especially for teenagers. Third spaces are the social surroundings that are separate from the two usual social environments of home (first place) and the workplace (second place). Examples of third places include churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries, gyms, bookstores, stoops, and parks. Do you guys remember that show? It was like an animated TV show on Teen Nick or something, and it literally was about teenagers hanging out in a mall. That concept, I feel like, is dead.

Obviously, shopping centers are still a thing, but I wonder if social media has stopped kids from going to third spaces to socialize and interact with each other and meet other kids their age. Teens need third spaces so they can do that, you know? Places where they don't have to spend money or have to focus on education or learning but just have time to learn about themselves and grow and form friendships.

For teenagers today, if you want to go to a place like Dave & Buster's or whatever, you have to spend a minimum of $20. We also have to think about what is the structure we are creating for them so that they are able to learn how to socialize and be social without being gatekept. I think the internet and social media have really served as a replacement for third spaces, especially now that shopping malls have greatly declined since the rise of online shopping.

Teenagers aren't reading as much either, and so I doubt they're like hanging out at libraries. Not that if you're going to the library with your friends, you're like there to read. But I don't know, I just feel like places where teens used to hang out aren't really popular anymore, or places where teens today would think, "Oh yeah, we should go here."

And not to mention the fact that if you want to socialize with your friends, you can do it online. I think a lot of people, especially younger people, see socializing online as the first resort when it comes to interaction with friends. I have to double-check this, but I'm pretty sure this generation of teenagers is at a record low when it comes to sexual activity and having a driver's license.

I think the anxiety that is bred from social media use has caused kids to stay home and not want to interact and be vulnerable with each other. Social media is such a distraction too. I mean, teens were just sucking and [expletive] back then because there was nothing better to do. But now you can scroll on TikTok and play Candy Crush. No one plays Candy Crush anymore, what am I saying?

Third places, public settings which offer sociability and community connection, may foster adaptive responding through the mutually consecutive, mutually reinforcing, and interrelated mechanisms of psychological sense of community and social capital. That is so important. Kids need that. Kids need third spaces for psychological and social development. I hope so but you know only time will tell and hopefully maybe this gap will be filled by some entrepreneurial genz-er who knows but let me know what your thoughts are in the comments

Hopefully you all enjoyed this blog! The other blog to make up for last week should be posted sometime tonight or tomorrow, so look out for that one. I don’t have much to say other than thank you to some of my consistent readers and (imo) my #1 supporter, Rudi Ben Pavlos!! This guy has been here since the first blog and I think it’s high time that he gets to be mentioned in one of these things. That’s all for today’s blog,

With matsalab,


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Rudi ben Pavlos

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Thanks for the shout out haha. It was a pleasure to read as always! I'm seriously wondering both how you come up with the ideas for the topics you explore and how you end up plunging so deeply into them to consistently arrive at the real heart of the matter

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⊹ ࣪ ˖ elizabeth

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wc: 3301 words!!

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