Paul V. Coates--Confidential File
Teenagers' magazines are a comparatively new fad. But in spite of their recent arrival, they have already grabbed a strong position of influence. And respect. Yesterday, I printed some letters written to Lilly Cooper, Dig magazine's problem editor.
They were written by teenagers. But they couldn't be printed in the periodical, even though it is published specifically for that age group.
The letters were too "hot." Too many parents would complain.
Yet, Miss Cooper asks hesitantly whether the type of adult who objects to such letters might often be the type responsible for them.
"So many kids have turned to us--complete strangers--for answers to their most serious problems," Miss Cooper tells me.
"Why us? Why not their parents or someone else in their communities?"
The answer might be found in some of the letters.
Here's one from a 16-year-old schoolgirl:
"My rep has been marred by an 18-year-old boy whom I met in the next town.
"I dated him quite a while.
"One night he started something which I told him would have to stop even though I loved him. And he agreed.
"But it happened again and I couldn't stop him.
"He got some other guys to say that they had done it, too, so he wouldn't be responsible.
"Could you help me. Please!"
Try this one, from Judy:
"Just finished reading your article about teenage spankings.
"I envy the kids who just get spankings or simple punishment. Have them try getting pushed up against the wall, choking around the neck and punched in the face, stomach and chest with a fist.
"Or for simple punishment, a beating with a thick belt.
"That's what happens to me, a 16-year-old girl, by my father. Maybe I deserve it. I don't know and care less. I've had it for so long I just don't feel anything any more."
In the two weeks' collection of problem letters which Miss Cooper showed me, the majority were from pregnant girls.
One, however, was from a young boy suffering perverted sexual urges. He couldn't face his father or his priest, he admitted, "because they think too much of me."
A 15-year-old wrote that she accidentally discovered pornographic pictures and literature in her parents' bedroom.
"I felt like screaming when I read it because my father's name was actually used in the literature. I just stood and cried and shook all over."
The most pathetic letter, however, came from Jane:
"I have never turned to anyone before and still don't know who to go to for help.
"I'm only 16 1/2 and a junior in high school, but since I was 12 I've been falling downward.
"When I started going out with boys I looked for any kind of affection. You see, no one ever told me to be careful.
"I saw no harm in what I was doing. I knew nothing about life or sex. My name became bad, of course, and my girlfriends and schoolmates avoided me. I couldn't understand why!
"Now 15, I started going with servicemen, older boys, fellows out of town. I began to drink. Almost every weekend I was drunk.
"Then I began going with a 'cat' from the big city. I was accepted into a large gang AFTER I proved I could smoke dope.
"Thank God I've avoided 'H' and mainlining.
"I really live two lives--my home and school life and my outside life. I've hurt so many boys, good clean-cut guys that happen to fall in love with me. I would take money from them, make them take me here and there and then bow out.
"Yes, I guess I'm just no good.
"My mother tries hard to make things nice for me by buying me records, clothes, etc. You just can't buy love and affection, though.
"My dad is a drinker and goes a bit crazy sometimes. He's put us both in the hospital from time to time.
"I'm trying my best to be as polite as possible and write as best I can and use the best English. I could lengthen this by all the laws I've broken but I only want to give you enough of a picture of me to help me out.
"Lilly, I think I'm very sick emotionally.
"If you can't help me, please, please tell me who could."
The letters I used were just average. There were dozens more like them.
Apparently the kids who wrote them knew no adult--parents, friend, neighbor--in whom they felt they could confide with trust.
The reflection is on us--and the image isn't pretty.
[Note: These teenagers are in their 60s now. I wonder what their lives were like and whether they overcame the pain of their early years. I certainly hope so. --lrh.]