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Two lives as teenagers: Teen life in the 1960’s vs. teen life in the 21st century

By: SUE WANG


To some people, teenage life in the 60’s is radically different from teenage life now, with drastic changes such as the prices of meals and movie tickets. However, this is not always the case.

61-year-old Charles Conrad Couey, nicknamed “Chuck”, grew up in Spokane, Washington. He recounted his teenage years in the mid-60’s, when America was dominated by various English influences and Elvis Presley.

Currently, teenagers and young people around the country tap their feet and dance to energetic rap and hip-pop, which often contain explicit lyrics. Many of them also enjoy swaying their bodies to the pretty melodies of pop and country songs. Some of the favorite artists chosen by teenagers nowadays include Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, The Jonas Brothers, and Beyoncé.

But in the 1960’s, the popular music was different. Rock-and-roll bands that originated from England such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who were influential back then. In fact, according to Couey, they absolutely “dominated the 60’s”.

Compared to now, rap has the same powerful impact on teenagers in the 21st century the same way rock influenced teenagers in the 60’s. At that time, The Beatles’ mania swept through the nation, and many people, male and female, became crazed fans. A lot of teenagers absolutely worshipped The Beatles as their idols, some even to the extent to comparing them as semi-gods. Couey recalled that every boy’s girlfriend was in love with Ringo Starr of The Beatles.

In addition to these iconic rock bands, Couey also listened to musical artists such as The Animals, which was another English group. His classmates and he also enjoyed a whole different set of music by Northwest rock-and-roll groups that were immensely popular in exclusively Washington, like Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Kingsmen. Couey emphasized the fact that The Beatles were “the biggest thing at that particular era” when they came to the U.S. in 1964. Furthermore, he also listened to some R&B and “soul music which was basically ‘black’ music” such as the Jackson 5.

Now, many teenagers keep themselves entertained by watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing video and computer games, and hanging out with their friends. This proves that a few things still stay the same.

Couey recalled that he watched television frequently back when he was a teenager to keep himself from boredom. Programs that were on at that time included a lot of Westerns like Gunsmoke and others like Star Trek and Twilight Zone. Western TV shows and movies were “big” back then; nowadays, Westerns are scarce and not widely watched at all.

Even though teenagers back then and right now both watch movies, there were only a small number of actual movie theaters in the 60’s. Couey said that his father would take him and his siblings to the drive-in movies in the parks before dark, especially during the summer. Movies that were popular at that time were an “awful lot of Westerns”, and Elvis Presley also had a lot of movies during that era.

Some leisurely activities that Couey did for fun in his spare time were primarily sports: lots of baseball, some golf, and football. He also hung out with his buddies a lot. As opposed to teenagers these days who join their friends at local malls, Couey and his friends usually gathered at an underhill park that was “about a block and a half from my house. It was a big, big, big, big, big [teenage] hangout.”

Many amusements are established today: some of the large-scale ones include Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags. However, back then, there was only one amusement park in Spokane; it was called Nat Park. Unlike teenagers nowadays who boast of traveling to exotic locations all around the world such as Paris and Beijing, Couey said that his peers and he didn’t travel often. During summer vacation, his family and he went to the lake and live in a rented cabin for a week.

“There weren’t a lot of dances that I remember at the high school because most of the dances were sponsored by ‘social clubs.’” Couey did remember going to dances at a popular place in Spokane named Grasp Miller’s Barn. Even back then, there was DJs at the school dances.

Many teenagers in high school seem to be bombarded with mountains of homework. For Couey, “it went downhill fast after ninth grade (still in junior high).” At that time, he spent approximately an hour or so doing his homework everyday. But, when he entered high school, the time he spent doing homework “seemed to me a lot less, hardly a lot at all.” As opposed to high school students nowadays who are buried with loads of homework, students of Couey’s generation were more relaxed and stress-free.

After school, Couey usually went to practice for the array of sport teams that he was on: baseball, football, and tennis. He was extremely athletic, participating not only in the three main sports but also picking up golf outside of school. He played baseball and football primarily in 10th grade, but ceased playing football after 10th grade because he started a part-time job at his local Albertson’s. Teenagers then and teenagers now both work occasionally for money, usually during the summer.


Types of transportation that were popular in the 1960’s were buses and cars. For Couey, before he got issued a driver’s license, it was “always, always the bus, or walking.” After he received his learner’s permit and later his driver’s license at 15 and a half, he and his older sister were able to use their mother’s car, which was a 1955 Chevy.

Teenagers back then and now both have allowances. In high school, Couey had a couple of girlfriends, like some teenage guys today/ The length of the average school year hasn’t changed much: school got out around the first week of June and started again in September after Labor Day. However, the bedtimes are getting later and later as the years go on: Couey slept around 10 P. M. when he was a teenager, whereas teens now sleep as late as midnight or even later! Some electives still remain the same: drama, music, and other various extracurricular activities.

The background of the time period also influenced the teenagers living during that time drastically. Some memorable events that happened in the world when Couey was a teenager included the Vietnam War, which was much more televised than any other previous war. Couey reflected that the “biggest event” was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who was well-thought of. Couey remarked, “I don’t think there were any other politicians as loved as Kennedy was, in terms of idolizing.”

“At that particular point, in that era, The Beatles were kind of a big deal. Big thing in my generation was that you idolized sports figures, especially baseball players, such as Mickey Mantle.” Couey stated that football was just emerging and that baseball was the “biggest sport.” He went on to say that “other kids idolized movie stars like Elvis Presley, Marlin Brando, and James Dean.”

The U.S. involvement in this particular war sparked anti-war movements beginning in 1966, therefore making the late 60’s known as the “hippie” period. In 1967-69, “war in Vietnam stepped up a notch or two; a lot of kids were just now paying attention [to the war], many of them in college at that time.”

“In 1966, there was a draft: if you didn’t go to college, you were subject to the draft, which probably meant you’d probably be in Vietnam,” said Couey, for he himself was a soldier in Vietnam for a year, shortly following his high school graduation.


Also, smoking was universal in the culture at that time; it was permitted everywhere. “If you wanted to be ‘cool’, smoking made you appear to be more grown-up, as did drinking.”

“In high school, big thing was did anyone have any beer; in 11th and 12th grade, you’d try to find out where you could get some beer (buy the beer at a local tavern which did not prove to be successful).”

The “in” clothes and brands to wear in that era differed in some aspects from the trendy clothing nowadays. “I think basic attire was obviously Levi’s jeans, and then most guys wore just like white t-shirts and sometimes you’d wear just a ‘shirt-shirt’; everything sort of centered around jeans.” Couey also added that Levi’s was the “big” brand. One particular type of shoes that proved to be perennial was Converse sneakers, which Couey referred to as a “must” during his teenage years.

Teens now eat at McDonald’s or Carl’s Jr. to grab a snack after school. For Couey and his friends, “there was a place, a hamburger chain called Zip’s; it was very popular, a bunch of them throughout Spokane, one right by the high school; another place called the Triple X, and the big pizza place: Shakey’s.”

Some fads and trends during the 1960’s stemmed off mainly from England. In terms of music, it was a “big era where English music dominated; [it] affected a lot of the dress.” For example, The Beatles wore Nehru jackets, which were jackets that have no collar. Moreover, “in the 60’s, there was a model Twiggy who was ultra-ultra thin; a lot of fashions that were sort of spun-off of Twiggy in terms of modeling.”



In this golden age of technology, most teenagers learn about the news of the world and enlighten themselves by means of the Internet. But, in the 1960’s, when televisions were still a novelty, Couey and teenagers his generation learned about the news by watching the three major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS. They all watched the nightly news, which consisted of half an hour of local news and half an hour of national news, which “touched on bigger things.” The radio was another source of information; however, most teenagers preferred to listen to music on the radio instead of the news. “There weren’t a lot of high school kids reading the newspapers…news was really limited.”
This sounds shocking to us now, but “all TV ended at eleven o’clock officially; after 12, it would just go to a test pattern. Nothing on until the next day, until the [format of] late shows started [later on].”

In the 60’s, there was only one way to communicate and contact your friends: talk to them directly or on the phone. “In almost all of the 60’s households, there was only one telephone in the entire house: for me, my brother, and my sister. If [any of us] wanted to talk to our friends, we had to share one telephone that was located on the wall in the dining room; if friend called you, it was in front of everybody.”

When asked about whether or not he took any summer school or supplemental classes during the school year,

Couey seemed astonished and bellowed, “Heck, no! Nobody did!” In contrast, high school students in the present are occupying themselves with classes preparing them for the SAT’s and enriching their knowledge bank.

Compared to the prices of consumer goods in the 60’s, prices today seem outrageously high. A complete meal (hamburger and milkshake) back then cost only a dollar, whereas right now, a fast food meal cost at least a whopping five dollars. As for the movie ticket prices, drive-in theaters in the 60’s offered special deals such as four dollars per carload; now, one person normally costs eight dollars for a movie.

For Couey, “life basically centered around school, baseball practice, dinner, and TV” when he was a teenager in Spokane. Over 40 years have passed since Couey was a teenager in the 1960’s. Humans have stepped into a new millennium where technology advancements soared and new breakthroughs in many different fields are achieved. Every single aspect of a teenager’s life today seems to somewhat resemble and yet in other facets differ from a teen’s life many years ago.



No matter in what period of time, the spirit of teenagers will always remain still the same. The fire and the passion that burn in their veins, fueling them to discover their paths and transform themselves into adults, will always be there. After all, teenagers are always teenagers; their crazy and unstable hormones make them who they are long before iPod’s were invented.


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