Imagine leaving your home, family
and friends to come to a strange new country. That is just what many young
people (sometimes with their families, but often alone) have done for more than
350 years in coming to the New World. For many immigrants (people who arrive in
a new country), the New World offered hope of a better life; for all new
arrivals, the change was traumatic.
In the 1600s, many children of poor
European immigrants were apprenticed (contracted) to work without wages as
servants for wealthier people until they were between 18 and 21 years of age.
Beginning in 1619, blacks were
brought to North America as slaves to work for the few early European settlers.
Young people as well as adults served as slaves until 1865, following the Civil
War, when the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed,
which abolished slavery.
Later, the United States experienced
major periods of immigration. The first occurred from about 1840 to 1880.
During that time, most of the immigrants were from northern and western Europe.
Most were fleeing poverty, or political or religious persecution. The second
major period began in the 1880s. While immigrants still came from northern and
western Europe, the majority now came from southern and eastern Europe, largely
for the same reasons as the first group. Many found work in large cities such
as New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
At the time of these major periods
of immigration, children of all ethnic groups often worked long hours in
factories, coal mines, mills or on farms. There were no laws regulating child
labor until the 1900s.
However, many new Americans saw that
education was their best chance for prosperity. In the 1900s, boys and girls
began to attend schools in increasing numbers. Many stayed in school until they
were about 15 years old. Work became less of an influence on young people. They
were now being influenced more by their schools, churches and families.
At the beginning of the 1900s, new
factories had been built, the western frontier was being conquered and the
economy was growing rapidly. Though society still fell short of their ideals,
youths—and their elders— believed that improvement and progress toward a better
world was inevitable and unstoppable. The staggering shock and losses brought by
World War I (1914-1918), however, caused disillusion. During the 1920s, youths
in America determined to live life to its fullest in anticipation of an
uncertain future, went "on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history"
wrote novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some young people tended to reject their
parents' values and turned to the new jazz music, to dancing and to having a
The Great Depression, beginning in
1929, put an end to this era. About 12 million people lost their jobs. Many
people had a hard time providing enough food for themselves. As a result, many
children had to quit school to find work. Under President Franklin D.
Roosevelt's direction, programs under the National Youth Service created jobs
for many young people. Some three million young men took part in the Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC), working to maintain forests and parks throughout the
World War II (1939-1945) restored a
feeling of national purpose and hope, and after the war the United States
experienced the biggest baby boom in history. Extending into the 1950s, this
increase in the birth rate produced the generation of young people known as the
"baby boom" that reached adulthood in the 1960s and early 1970s.
During the 1960s, many youths met
President John F. Kennedy's challenge: "Ask not what your country can do
for you; ask what you can do for your country." They volunteered to help
the handicapped, the poor and the needy at home and also in foreign countries
through the Peace Corps. The decade of the 1960s was also a time of growing
political awareness, turbulence and rebellion. On many college campuses, young
people protested the country's involvement in the Vietnam War. They
demonstrated and worked against racial segregation and against poverty. Some
young people developed their own subculture, which included styles of dress,
music and ideas about independence which were different from those of their
Some women began calling for
equality with men and developed the beginnings of what is now known as the
women's liberation movement. Increasing discord in family life was openly
discussed as divorce rates climbed and young people who couldn't agree with
their parents' attitudes and values talked about the "generation
Television programs and films introduced
an unaccustomed openness about sexuality in the United States during this
period, Many young people became involved in activities that once only some
adults participated in, such as the use of drugs and alcohol.
By the 1970s, the times were different
and the focus of youths' attention had been drawn elsewhere. Gone were the
violent protests of the previous decade. The American involvement in the war
ended and after military conscription was stopped in 1973, many protests died
In the 1980s, young people generally
became more conservative and interested primarily in working toward success in
their careers. One writer called the 1980s "the new age of realism."
Others dubbed the young people of the 1980s "the me generation."
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