- Get Out of My Room: A History of Teen Bedrooms in America by Jason Reid
In Get Out of My Room, Jason Reid traces the history of the teenage bedroom, charting how and why it emerged, and what its meaning has been to generations of Americans. He uncovers the ideological, demographic, economic, and psychological trends which fostered this use of domestic space, and ably demonstrates the role the bedroom has played in American adolescents' lives as well as in literature, music, and film.
He turns first to the nineteenth century, when the idea of separate bedrooms for young people began to spread among middle-class families, who envisioned such spaces as offering opportunities for solitude, religious reverie, and character development. While some families indeed began to create these chambers for their young, according to Reid, the idea caught on somewhat slowly. Indeed, he has unearthed stories which depicted children regarding a room of their own with dread rather than delight, for they did not welcome separation from siblings. By the end of the century, however, the idea gained greater traction, and more middle-class families began to offer their children their own spaces, when and if they could afford them. Reid points out that the bedroom was seen as feminine space, since girls were expected to be more domestic than boys. Boys were expected to live their lives outside of the home, and hence the bedroom supposedly had less relevance to their development.
In the early twentieth century, psychologists, child-rearing experts, and psychoanalysts came to endorse separate bedrooms with new ardor. G. Stanley Hall, author of landmark volumes on adolescence, supported the idea, suggesting that young people could benefit from periods of solitude, during which they might learn more about themselves and prepare to join society. Likewise, Freudians and Behaviorists favored separate rooms, for they focused upon the importance of young people separating themselves from their parents. Freudians warned that those parents who failed to make their children independent of them would turn their offspring into neurotics; Behaviorists too believed the separate bedroom afforded young people an opportunity to wean themselves from the family and gradually assert independence.
Other child-rearing experts likewise came to endorse such spaces. Some believed that rooms offered young people the opportunity to learn civic skills and [End Page 1005] the art of property accumulation; others believed bedrooms might serve as a way to "contain" youth; to keep them safely in the home and away from dangerous vices.
But, as Reid points out, many worried about the autonomy these rooms afforded, as well, particularly as the rooms came to be seen as spaces that children should design, decorate, and, to some extent, control. Nineteenth-century moralists and psychologists had focused on masturbation as a particular vice that young people might engage in while in their own private rooms. Twentieth-century commentators focused on sex, drugs, and rock and roll as the pastimes that provoked worry. What should be allowed and what should be prohibited in these rooms? How much privacy should a child expect? These were questions generations of parents asked, and their answers changed over time. Reid shows how parental surveillance and control of these spaces gradually declined as the rooms came to be seen as expressions of the adolescent self. He also reveals how the furnishings of these rooms changed, as they increasingly came to be private multi-media centers, which often lessened parental control even further, for who knew what children were listening to or watching in their private spaces.
In tracing this history, Reid relies on an admirable mix of sources— parenting guides, fiction, psychological and sociological studies, memoirs, decorating guides, advice columns such as Dear Abby and Ann Landers, music, literature, TV and films (from Leave it to Beaver and the Brady Bunch to Fast Times at Ridgemont High). He also surveyed adults about their memories of their teen-age bedrooms, enlivening his text with many compelling first-hand accounts of adolescence. Reid shows great ingenuity in...