In 1956, Grace Metalious published Peyton Place, which was voraciously read by any teenager that could sneak it into the house. I first read it when I was about 12, maybe? Apart from the story line, Ms. Metalious had a way with words. This wasn't a cheap novella, this was great writing. Opening paragraph:
"Indian Summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle; she comes and goes as she pleases, so that one is never sure whether she will come at all nor for how long she will stay.
In Northern New England, Indian Summer puts up a scarlet-tipped hand to hold winter back for a while. She brings with her the time of the last warm spell, an uncharted season until Winter moves in with its backbone of ice and accouterments of leafless trees and hard, frozen ground.
"Those grown old, who have had the youth bled from them by the jagged edged winds of winter, know sorrowfully that Indian Summer is a sham to be met with hard-eyed cynicism.
"But the young wait anxiously, scanning the chill autumn skies for a hint of her coming. And sometimes the old, against all the warnings of better judgment, wait with the young and hopeful, their tired winter eyes looking heavenward to seek the first traces of a false softening."
At this point, you're pretty much sucked into the book, which was a tour de force of dysfunctional parenting, child molestation, and other goodies, all hidden under a veneer of New England respectability. It went on to become a glossy soap opera, losing its original meaning.
Then, hard on the heels of this expose, we have great literature, via Vladimir Nabokov, and his reflections on the relationship between middle-aged Humbert Humbert, and his cynical 13 year old next door neighbor, Lolita. Excerpt from Lolita.
Simone de Beauvoir's excellent feminist treatise was also made available in paperback in the early 60s, and I remember my mother having quite a yelling match with the local newspaper stand, for stocking the book in the first place. Too late, as I'd already read it. The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir. Let alone, the great forbidden book - Lady Chatterley's Lover. That one was pretty hard to get hold of at the local newspaper stand, but of course we all got our hands on it.
Did these works of literature damage our collective sexual psyches or simply provide an awakening? Our parents would never have been this eloquent, that's for sure.
Into this mix came rock music, pioneered by kids our age and supported by adults who had to be trusted to understand what was going on. In the States, it was Dick Clark, Alan Freed, Don Kirshner, among others, and in the UK it was the disk jockeys and on-air personalities of Radio Caroline, Radio London, TOTP and Ready, Steady, Go, among others. The kids flocked to these personalities as either gate-keepers to the stars or just to be part of the burgeoning scene that surrounded the personalities themselves. Age was not a bar to this mix and mingle, and it was not considered scurrilous in those days. The BBC imposed age limits on guests to their TV music shows, but an enterprising young person could usually get around that and other restricted venues with a pretty smile and enough make-up! The stars needed fans of all ages, and so a nod became as good as a wink to a blind horse when it came to access. Long as you looked 16, it was okay.
In the 50s, our families were on the ropes after a devastating world war. England began to emerge from the wreckage, and the States entered a prosperous period of recovery. A whole new era, led by teenagers, began.
So, we tried to create a different world, with different rules. Suicide is not illegal, being homosexual is not illegal, abortion is not illegal, just for starters. We protested war effectively, we got rid of corrupt politicians, we showed our kids how to inherit the kingdom, but the consent issue remains. Does it matter to them?
So, how's about a national referendum - getting kids together in various forums, and asking them what THEY think about all this? They shouldn't be excluded, it's their world now - and you might just learn something.