Kids Today, or, the thinkpiece in 1920

I haven’t abandoned Malory Towers, but a lot of my spare time has been taken up researching another project (which is probably years away, but I’m all about the long game). Research so far mostly involves going through Melbourne newspaper archives of the 1920s — thank you, Trove — and making copies of the interesting/relevant ones.

(Fun facts: the word “nightclub” and variations thereof only appears in reviews of plays and correspondence from London, although one article notes that, despite the racy reputation of London’s nightclubs, a better source for cocaine is tea salons, the more respectable the better. And searching for “flapper” is made difficult because there was a racehorse of that name in Melbourne in the early ’20s.)

Anyway, I’ve been delighted to find excellent examples of Jazz Age thinkpieces. Are today’s youth being destroyed by too much theatre and dancing? Have moving pictures created “cinema fiends” incapable of experiencing real emotion? Why do people persist in listening to jazz in public?

"Our School Boys and Girls" scan of article - full text below in post

Take, for example, this piece by “Queen Bee” about the shocking degeneration of young people. For anyone using a screen reader, who who just enjoy reading roughly scanned vintage newsprint , I’ve typed the full article out for your enjoyment. Keep in mind as you read that the “boys and girls” referred to here are secondary school students, whom today would be regarded as teens and young adults. (I’ve bolded my favourite parts.)


Particular interest attaches to the report by Miss Henderson (head mistress of Clyde Country Boarding School) presented at the first annual distribution of prizes since the school was established at Woodend. Miss Henderson refers to the many social entertainments which school boys and girls in Melbourne have been allowed to attend this year. These she considered very disturbing to proper school work, and was glad that at Clyde such distractions were not possible.

The social training of children of the school age is still the cause of much difference of opinion among parents. In some homes we find that the children are allowed almost to “run wild”. As against this there are children who are disciplined — with lessons and with regular hours for learning them — and, indeed, for almost everything they do. Probably if the two systems could be judiciously combined a satisfactory method might be evolved. Unless this happy medium is reached it is difficult to see a solution.

In the meantime the formation of a parents’ union, in which some agreement of opinion could be arrived at, would do a lot of good. Then it might be resolved that during school terms there should be no dances, no going to the theatre, and no supper parties in restaurants. It would also be interesting if the results of past and present methods of training could be noted in after-life. One thing seems evident, that the school boys and girls today, and especially the girls, are not nearly as robust as those who were at school before the social mania set in. And no wonder. Parents should know and observe this. They realise and have experience of the social racket, and know how wearing it is. Surely the same applies to the school boy and girl who cannot possibly, in the face of such antics, have any taste or strength of brain for lessons. More often than not, they work their brains on a tired body, which is utterly destructive to a young constitution.

Both head mistresses and head masters are greatly perturbed about the matter. “Early to bed,” &c. is a maxim which has been allowed to fall into abeyance to such an extent that there are now as many children up and about as grown-ups when the late hours of the night come on. Not so long ago children would have been punished severely by their parents if they had been out after dark unknown to them. But the degeneration of children has gone so far that they are now often out in places of amusement, or at dances, at a time when they should be fast asleep, enriching their young bodies, both for their educational course and for later life.

The pity of it all is that while we see rapid and splendid changes for the good going on all round us with regard to the parents, our young people — our boys and girls — are not keeping time with the improvement. The enemy to be fought, if any reform is to take place, will have to be attacked at once. Old-fashioned virtues and customs have shown us what no modernism can alter, that for boys and girls to grow up with simple childish minds, they must be taught to respect their youth. Teachers say they are doing all they can in this respect, but are fighting against the weakness of discipline and want of obedience in the home. As surely as this is allowed to extend, a good deal of misery will be felt as time goes on, and mothers and fathers will have a great deal to regret.

We are not alone as regards this question. It has gained a hold, to some extent, in England and on the Continent. But wise heads are taking counsel to devise ways and means of stopping the unfortunate modern ideas from developing further. Above all, the encouraging of hobbies is thought most important, especially when they involve keeping the boys and girls at home. It is hoped that by this means the taste for gadding about, especially at night, will gradually die out, for there will be strong inducement to stay at home. As of old, parents and children will be united, and there will be a return to common interests and a submission to that valuable factor in child culture — control. No one wishes it to be a case of “all work and no play”, but is desirable that the play shall be of a more appropriate nature, and shall be indulged at a time when lessons are not in the balance.

Please hold while I find some pearls to clutch

To put this in context, well-off students, whether at boarding or day schools around Melbourne, were indeed permitted to occasionally attend the theatre, or restaurants, or even dances, provided they were suitably chaperoned. These excursions were valuable, not just for escapism, but to give young people a chance to learn to interact with the adult world.

This article isn’t about children roaming the streets unsupervised — though there are certainly plenty of pieces about that, too.  It’s harking back to an entirely fictional time when young people were obedient, studious and entered adulthood magically knowing how to behave in company.

We sure never see that these days.


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