The Rise of the Teenager
Today, many advertisers aim their ads and products directly at teenagers, who carry quite a bit of spending power. In the 1950s, however, teenagers were largely ignored by the media. Not recognized as adults who went through the war or included in the “baby boom” that came shortly after, teens were rather marginalized — until the music industry started to recognize them with songs. The songs, many of which were sung by people their own age, told their stories — stories about loud parties, fast cars and first loves. It was at this time that the word “teenager” first came into use.
Music and Dances
It’s not surprising that the most important forms of entertainment for teenagers in the 1950s revolved around music. They spent time listening to music and going to dances, although they often had to follow strict rules. Some schools stopped holding dances — called “sock hops” because the teens were required to take off their shoes so as not to damage the gym floor — because of the “dangers” posed by rock ‘n’ roll music. But just like the teens of today, the young people of the 1950s found ways to get around the rules. Private organizations, including sororities, often hosted dances and proms for teens when the schools would not. Record shops were gathering places to meet and “hang out” with other teens.
For teenagers — as for many adults — eating is a social occasion, and this has been the case for decades. For entertainment, teens in the 1950s often visited ice cream parlors and malt shops, pizza parlors and coffee houses, according to Peter Losin, adjunct senior lecturer at the University of Maryland. This is not very different from teens today, who will often include a meal at a fast-food restaurant or other location as part of a social event or date.
Meet at the Movies
Another thing that has not changed in more than 50 years is the appeal of a flick on the big screen. Going to see a movie was a common form of entertainment for teenagers in the 1950s, who would either visit the theater or hop in the car for a trip to the drive-in. Drive-in movie theaters featured a big screen situated in front of what was essentially a big parking lot. A speaker sat by each parking space. Teenagers would park their cars facing the big screen, sit in the car and watch the movie, listening to it through the speaker. This was an economical choice, as you could pack several teenagers into one car. Many drive-ins also had snack bars where you could buy food and enjoy it in your car while watching the movie.