"The basic right of all human beings is the right to choose what to learn and think." ~John Holt

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Adolescent Squeeze


The Adolescent Squeeze

Before 1850, laws restricting the behavior of teens were few and far between. Compulsory education laws evolved in tandem with laws restricting labor by young people. Beginning in 1960, the number of laws infantilizing adolescents accelerated dramatically. You may have had a paper route when you were 12, but your children can't.


  • 1641 Massachusetts law prohibits people under 16 from "smiting" their parents


  • 1836 Massachusetts passes first law requiring minimal schooling for people under 15 working in factories
  • 1848 Pennsylvania sets 12 as minimum work age for some jobs
  • 1852 Massachusetts passes first universal compulsory education law in U.S., requires three months of schooling for all young people ages 8-14
  • 1880s Some states pass laws restricting various behaviors by young people: smoking, singing on the streets, prostitution, "incorrigible" behavior
  • 1881 American Federation of Labor calls on states to ban people under 14 from working
  • 1898 World's first juvenile court established in Illinois—constitutional rights of minors effectively taken away


  • 1903 Illinois requires school attendance and restricts youth labor
  • 1918 All states have compulsory education laws in place
  • 1933 First federal law restricting drinking by young people
  • 1936 & 1938 First successful federal laws restricting labor by young people, establishing 16 and 18 as minimum ages for work; still in effect
  • 1940 Most states have laws in place restricting driving by people under 16
  • 1968 Supreme Court upholds states' right to prohibit sale of obscene materials to minors
  • 1968 Movie rating system established to restrict young people from certain films
  • 1970s Supreme Court upholds laws restricting young women's right to abortion
  • 1970s Dramatic increase in involuntary electroshock therapy (ECT) of teens
  • 1980s Many cities and states pass laws restricting teens' access to arcades and other places of amusement; Supreme Court upholds such laws in 1989
  • 1980s Courts uphold states' right to prohibit sale of lottery tickets to minors
  • 1980 to 1998 Rate of involuntary commitment of minors to mental institutions increases 300-400 percent
  • 1984 First national law effectively raising drinking age to 21
  • 1988 Supreme Court denies freedom of press to school newspapers
  • 1989 Missouri court upholds schools' right to prohibit dancing
  • 1989 Court rules school in Florida can ban salacious works by Chaucer and Aristophanes
  • 1990s Curfew laws for young people sweep cities and states
  • 1990s Dramatic increase in use of security systems in schools
  • 1992 Federal law prohibits sale of tobacco products to minors
  • 1997 New federal law makes easier involuntary commitment of teens


  • 2000+ New laws restricting minors' rights to get tattoos, piercings, and to enter tanning salons spread through U.S.
  • 2000+ Tougher driving laws sweeping through states: full driving rights obtained gradually over a period of years
  • 2000+ Dramatic increase in zero-tolerance laws in schools, resulting in suspensions or dismissals for throwing spitballs, making gun gestures with hand, etc.
  • 2000+ New procedures and laws making it easier to prosecute minors as adults
Currently spreading nationwide:

  • New rules prohibiting cell phones in schools or use of cell phones by minors while driving
  • Libraries and schools block access to Internet material by minors
  • New dress code rules in schools
  • New rules restricting wearing of potentially offensive clothing or accessories in schools
  • New laws prohibiting teens from attending parties where alcohol is served (even if they're not drinking)
  • New laws restricting teens' access to shopping malls
  • Tracking devices routinely installed in cell phones and cars of teens
  • New availability of home drug tests for teens
  • New laws prohibiting minors from driving with any alcohol in bloodstream (zero-tolerance)
  • Proposals for longer school days, longer school year, and addition of grades 13 and 14 to school curriculum under discussion

No comments: