Last week I told you about my dad’s three primary rules that his children were required to follow when it came to dating: (1) no dating until the second semester of junior year in high school, (2) no going steady while in high school, and (3) no dating anyone who is no longer in high school. I mentioned that he believed that going steady was too much of a commitment for his high school daughters, because it set up expectations that could lead to inappropriate behavior. He also believed that boys who were in college were too experienced at getting what they wanted from girls, and he didn’t want them getting involved with his daughters while they were still in high school.
I am not aware of any of my brothers ever violating my dad’s rules concerning dating, but some of my sisters found ways to get around them. Although they couldn’t get away with going out on a formal date prior to second semester junior year, they sometimes made arrangements to attend events with their girlfriends where they would meet up and spend time with boys they were interested in.
I don’t want to give you the impression that my sisters were promiscuous. They weren’t. However, like most teenagers, they found ways to stretch and get around the rules imposed on them by their parents. And the boys in our family weren’t innocent bystanders. Although we didn’t violate the dating rules, we found ways to stretch and get around other rules that we didn’t agree with.
Despite the sneaking around that took place, there were limitations on what my sisters could do to bypass the rules. Since the events I’m referring to occurred in the 1970s, there were a limited number of ways in which they could communicate with the boys they were interested in. At that time, there were no cell phones or computers. We had three telephones in our home — one attached to the kitchen wall, one attached to the wall in the family room, and one sitting on top of a nightstand next to my parents’ bed.
Until 1973, we had only one telephone line. That year, my dad added a second line that we could switch to from any of the phones in the house. One phone line was designated the main line and the other the teen line. The rule was that if we wanted to make a phone call to one of our cousins or friends, we were required to use the teen line. Because there was only one line available for us to use, there were limits on the amount of time we could spend on the telephone.
If we’re going to discuss new rules for dating, we need to agree on a definition of the word “date.” The dictionary defines a “date” as “an appointment to meet at a specified time” or “a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character.”
Generally speaking, prior to the invention of the automobile, if a boy wanted to date a girl, he had to go to her parents’ home to meet with her. They could spend time together in the home, walk somewhere together, or maybe even go for a ride in a horse-drawn buggy. Walks and rides were limited to the spring, summer, and fall months.
The perfection of the assembly line by Henry Ford, and the accompanying mass production and drop in prices of automobiles, eventually allowed families to acquire a vehicle for use by members of the family. When a booming economy after World War II resulted in a substantial increase in prosperity for Americans, they were able to afford an additional vehicle for their teenagers to drive.
The addition of the second family vehicle dramatically changed the way teenagers dated. A girl no longer had to stick around her parents’ home to interact with a boy she was interested in. She could now be picked up (even in the winter) and driven away from her home to a destination where she could be alone with her boyfriend. During the same period of time, the mass production and distribution of condoms and, later, birth control pills, gave couples the “freedom” to engage in sex without the consequences of an unexpected pregnancy.
Without realizing it, when parents started allowing their teenagers to use the family automobile to go out with their friends, they relinquished whatever authority and control they had over their children’s behavior. Those of us who came of age during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s have a great affection for those years, primarily because of the freedom we experienced as a result of our automobiles. The movie American Graffiti is a fairly accurate portrayal of what went on during those years with teenagers all over America.
The automobile, combined with newly effective methods of birth control and the influence of the media (radio, television, and movies), helped usher in the sexual revolution in America.
My dad’s rule that formal dating was prohibited until second semester junior year, combined with limited access to a telephone, hindered any attempts at establishing an intimate relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend. His hope was that when his children were allowed to date, they would be responsible and mature enough to refrain from inappropriate behavior.
So what has changed in the past 40 years that would necessitate a change in the dating rules that my dad had in place? The most significant change has been the introduction and widespread use of computers and smartphones by teenagers. (A smartphone, such as an iPhone or Android, is the equivalent of a personal pocket computer that is equipped with mobile phone functions and can be used to access the Internet.)
While the automobile removed parents’ ability to effectively supervise their teenagers while they were away from home, the use of computers and smartphones has removed parents’ ability to effectively supervise their teenagers while they’re at home.
Although the new rules for dating must include limitations on teenagers’ use of computers and smartphones, before imposing those rules, parents need to first have a greater understanding of how those devices are currently being used to accelerate promiscuity among teenagers. That’s what I’ll be covering next week.