Apart from 15-year-olds still being as full of hormones as books are of pages, freshmen being petrified by their newly appearing pubes, and 20-year-olds being just as proud of their weirdly thin, slightly gross beards, the answer to this question might partially be yes, our youth has grown up. Biology won’t change, sadly, but culture does. On the 12th of April, 1954, Bill Haley & His Comets recorded Rock Around The Clock, a song in hindsight widely known as the first ever rock ´n roll hit, consequently launching the entire genre, and, according to some, establishing the first-ever foundations of a phenomenon known as youth culture. In the decades that followed, teenagers losing it over Elvis Presley were quickly substituted by Hippies freely enjoying the atmospheres at Woodstock, subsequently reacted upon by the Punk and Hard Rock movements shortly after. In other words, through the second half of the twentieth century, subcultures, emerging from the younger part of society, appeared one after another. Yet, the rebellious nature these subcultures used to have in the past seems to have been lost. Although any randomly gathered group of high school kids would nowadays still be easily dividable by who listens to Hip Hop, who prefers folk and which kids identify as goth, riots and demonstrations no longer regularly feature in the evening news. In short, has our youth grown up?
One of the reasons for the slowing down of this process could be that parents already know the drill. Whereas the pelvic movements, associated with rockabilly of the 1950s, were conceived of as being overtly sexual and shocking, roughly equal phenomena are nowadays commonly seen as mere generation gaps. Youth culture has become a relevant part of society, something that is not to be overlooked when, for instance, constructing one´s election campaign, articles or website. Education programs or anti-smoking commercials regularly display a conscious awareness of differences between generations, and often aim to tie in with new slang or to make use of current celebrities and trends in fashion or music. Youth culture has become more of an opportunity, rather than something to overthrow. This, logically, also results in these subcultures being less turbulent themselves. Why actively stand up to parents and authority or turn to drugs when you’re being foregrounded from the start?
Another explanation can – almost unsurprisingly – be found in social media. The internet makes our subcultures more mainstream, even though it would be quite sensible to think that the worldwide web actually functions as a catalyst rather than slow the entire process down, since it provides endless chances for adolescents to find, match, like and share their ideologies. For example, Punk and EDM gatherings of the 70s, 80s and 90s were often organized in very closed off, underground or even illegal places, making them exclusive and for very specific communities. This strong sense of being shielded off from the rest of society made the division between the old and the new, the ordinary and radical, or the left and right-winged even stronger, making these communities the perfect greenhouses for the emergence of newly, radically different subcultures. Nowadays, however, both old and young share the same platform, and interchange their ideals regularly, making the clash between generations, if there even is one, less abrupt and out of the blue, more of a slow and easygoing.
Furthermore, all of this is also affected by a sense of time. Youth culture used to be heavily associated with fashion: almost nobody still dressed as a hippie in the 90s, and in that same way nobody would come close to dancing the Charleston at a high school prom in 1974. Adding to that, teenagers from certain generations, associated with certain cultures, would all grow up, making room, time after time, for the next ones to come up with something new. Yet, even though fashion still changes consistently, it is not weird for any one in his late teenage years to be a hardcore fan of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Youth culture has become less time-bound, and more of a whole, in which its subgenres or cultures are heavily interchangeable and less fashion-riven. This kind of fragmentation logically results in less of a united youth, and therefore less protests, riots, and in general, reasons to rebel.
So, has our youth grown up? I would say that the generations of today still encounter some of the same problems earlier ones used to have as well, but that, over time, we have learned to handle and control things more maturely. We have become more free, and we have loosened the stigmas and chains that previous subcultures set up. You don’t have to take drugs, listen to the latest Bowie album, or fiercely fight the police to still have an opinion that matters. So yes, we have grown up, little by little. But, maybe, for the better.