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Posted at 1:13 PM ET, 10/ 2/2010

School dances: Another baby boomer failure

By Valerie Strauss

With the new school year in full swing, school dances have begun in earnest. This can’t be what Patrick Swayze had in mind in “Dirty Dancing.”

For those of you fortunate enough not to have had experience with this yet, here’s what kids do today at many school dances (as well as at parties, formal and otherwise): They provocatively grind their pelvises into each other on the dance floor, sometimes standing face to face, sometimes with the boy behind the girl. It's called grinding.

Sexually suggestive dancing was hardly invented by today's kids. Young people say it is harmless fun, and sometimes it is.

But sometimes there is something more troubling going on: Boys often walk up to girls who don’t already have a boy thrusting his genitals at them and just start right up, no permission sought. Many girls, who even in the 21st century will do nearly anything to win a boy’s attention, allow them to go ahead without a word. Of course, there are some girls who initiate it themselves. That’s no better.

What this points to is the failure of many baby boomers to teach their daughters to respect themselves and their bodies and make their own choices, and to teach their sons to view women and girls as something other than sex objects.

The objectification of women in American society is at least as strong today as it ever was. It is unfathomable that girls, sometimes 13 or younger, can feel that the culture demands they allow boys to push themselves on them or risk ridicule.

There is also the developmental issue: Even though today’s teens are bombarded with sexual messages far more than previous generations were and may seem culturally mature at earlier ages, they aren’t any more psychologically ready to deal with the consequences than we old folks were at their age.

Some schools around the country have banned grinding.

At Downey High School in Los Angeles, for example, parents and teens have to sign a contract before a kid can attend a dance that says, in part, that there will be "no touching breasts, buttocks or genitals. No straddling each others' legs. Both feet on the floor." According to this Los Angeles Times article, offending students get two warnings before being thrown out.

The same article reported that Mickey Blaine, the dean of students at private Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood, warned students last year that if they crossed the line he would turn up the lights and play Burt Bacharach music or William Shatner singing "Mr. Tambourine Man."

That may be a better way of dealing with the immediate problem than an outright ban that kids go out of their way to defy. What is really needed is education for both sexes (that starts early and doesn't end) about gender and respect, for self and others alike.

This is one thing the boomer generation should have gotten right.

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 2, 2010; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  High School, Student Life  | Tags:  baby boomers, boomer generation, boomers, school dances; dirty school dancing; teen dancing; grinding on dance floor  
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Comments

That our society has reached a point where very young men and women (biologically, that's where they are) are willing to act out so crudely in public says much more about the pervasive, insensitive and even ugly views of sexuality that permeate our culture, and I wouldn't lay it all at the feet of the baby boomers, though they may be responsible for the groundwork. The music, tv and movie industries promote crude and often violent sexuality that these students have ingested since infancy.

Interesting to speculate that perhaps the rise of this sort of public socialization between the sexes may have concurred also with the fine arts having less and less of a place at the table. In one of my graduate art glasses almost 30 years ago, we were speculating that the proliferation of pornography via the new "tech" videos, snuff films, etc. would likely lead to increasing desensitization.

Sadly, I think it will take a lot more than a few classes discussing gender issues and respect for one another.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 2, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

No wonder so many young kids think about boys and girls and sex all the time in the classroom. All they want to do is get friends' attention and act hot and cool. Learning is not a priority to them.

Well...how to solve the problem? I know, fire all the lazy teachers and hire 'effective' teachers. Teachers can solve all the problems. Parents and students don't have to be held accountable. Easiest and fastest solution is to blame schools and teachers. Anything else doesn't matter.

Posted by: salukiindc | October 2, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

REAL teachers don't let this happen. Period.

Posted by: mamoore1 | October 2, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Not that I agree with the way the kid dance today, but isn't this the same thing that was said about the way kids danced to Elvis?

Posted by: williamhorkan | October 2, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Not that I agree with the way the kid dance today, but isn't this the same thing that was said about the way kids danced to Elvis?

I wish it was but it aint. More like the story of O

Posted by: mamoore1 | October 2, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

The kids dance like this in front of their parents. Their parents don't stop them. How on God's earth do you expect the schools to stop them? I won't supervise school dances anymore just because of this problem. You spend the whole night chasing around stopping the kids from mimicking sex acts. Parents are there supervising, too. They don't do anything or even act outraged. I just don't get it.

Posted by: fgabi | October 2, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

It's not just not respecting their bodies. They put not only send each other photos of nudity, but they even tape actions that violate the law. They ask their teachers personal questions and feel entitled to the answers. As a substitute I have been asked by students in several different schools if I am married and have kids, why not, what my favorite television show it, why I haven't seen the latest movies, etc. I thought at first this was just the standard "get-the-sub-distracted-so-she'll-forget-to-give-us-homework" ploy, but when I replied to one question that it was a private matter, the student snapped, "You're really grumpy today."

I wonder how close is the link between students not granting others any privacy and society's practices of doing drug sweeps with no real evidence, strip-searching students (at least until the Supreme Court said they couldn't), and banning all teenagers from malls because of a few trouble makers.

Recently, a high school class was complaining that the schedule didn't leave them any time to stop at the restroom between classes, and I suggested that they and their parents should go to the school board with the complaint. They shrugged. "They won't listen to us. We're kids."

They don't respect themselves because no one else does.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | October 3, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Stop placing blame and start working on solutions. There is a web site that specifically addresses the issues of inappropriate lyrics and inappropriate dancing in schools: The School Dance Network. www.schooldancenetwork.com offers the NATIONAL DO NO PLAY LIST, a preferred dance play list, and a directory of responsible DJs along with an up dated blog addressing school dance issues. It's free to schools.

Posted by: ric5 | October 3, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Blame it on baby boomers child rearing practices?

They started being born in 1946 -- thats the pent up fertility suppressed by marriage and breeding delayed by the Depression and WW II. The boom was a bust by 1970. Boomer's had a mean mother's age of first birth of around 23 years, so their kids began being born in 1969. They are over 40 years old.

So, what part of "boomer's" is responsible for transgressive dancing that missed the first half of boomer offspring behavior?

We just can't make sense of the same cohorts simulating rutting in public, "hooking up" casually, the while also insisting on the modesty and privacy of individual shower stalls and dressing rooms in sports locker rooms.

I didn't know you'd ever write a "tsk, tsk" column.

Posted by: incredulous | October 4, 2010 1:21 AM | Report abuse

Blame it on baby boomers child rearing practices?

They started being born in 1946 -- thats the pent up fertility suppressed by marriage and breeding delayed by the Depression and WW II. The boom was a bust by 1970. Boomer's had a mean mother's age of first birth of around 23 years, so first boomer's first kids were popping in earnest around 1969. The dance-hall rutters and simulators you worry about would be over 40 years old today. You don't mean them, then.

So, what part of "boomer's" is responsible for transgressive dancing that missed the first half of boomer offspring behavior?

We just can't make sense of the same cohorts simulating rutting in public, "hooking up" casually, the while insisting on the modesty and privacy of individual shower stalls and dressing rooms in sports locker rooms.

I didn't know you'd ever write a "tsk, tsk" column.

Posted by: incredulous | October 4, 2010 2:18 AM | Report abuse

Alas, I wish "grinding" were all there was to it. When I was college counselor at the University of Chicago's Lab H.S., I chaperoned a few dances. In nearly complete darkness and accompanied by "music" that called women "hos" and advocated worse, huge pods of privileged children of hyper-educated parents merged into one mass of grinding, pulsating flesh. At one dance, a group like this surrounded a boy lying on the floor with a girl straddling his face. When I and two other teachers attempted to break this up, we were ridiculed by the kids and given no help by the other chaperons, who hid out in the alcoves, or the administrators, who shrugged and suggested there was nothing they could do about it. The next day I was told the same thing.

One teacher (one of those who hid from the mass) suggested we just ban dances. I said it might be more helpful to teach kids some self-respect. I'm sorry to say that nothing happened. I'm also sorry to say that in one case where I intervened to separate a couple who were basically doing it doggy style on the dance floor, I scolded the girl (not a Lab kid) more than I did the boy. I do remember saying something about respecting themselves. But I was told later, by other counselors, that that's just the way it is these days. I suggested we just put them all in a room, turn off the lights and leave if that were the case.

I struggle with the idea that "in our day" the Elvis pelvis (that was actually before my time but still...) was scandalous so isn't it the same thing here--we're just behind the times. But it seems like a matter of degrees worse. I hate sounding prudish, but if you've ever seen it, and realized there's no one teaching anything better, you have to wonder what's gotten into all of us. And let's remember that schools are supposed to be "conservative" in the good way of demonstrating and supporting the highest ideals of thought and behavior. Just giving up to avoid antagonizing them does the kids a real disservice. It reminds me of the scene in "The African Queen" when Bogey says it's human nature to get drunk and Hepburn primly replies, "Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this earth to rise above." Amen, sister!

Posted by: willdix55 | October 4, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

A couple suggestions:
To turn a school culture around, you need student leadership. Find the students who have well-developed self-respect, and peer-respect, and problem solve together. Students who are treated respectfully and asked to help solve the problem will respond. The problem needs to be well-defined and supported. It's not that "grinding" is just wrong because we say it is - explain it in cool, rational terms. While treating the student as an adult, clarify that the legal adults in charge cannot allow children in their care to be subject to degradation or violated. It also helped in our school to explain to students exactly why it's so hard to round up chaperones - for the reasons cited above. We grown ups don't want to watch children simulating sex acts. Our school now has a video that students watch while they're in line to enter a dance. It has some guidelines and rules, what to do and not do. I hear the kids who make the video were pretty embarrassed when it came to demonstrating for the camera, in daylight, in the absence of music. When they really see and think about what they're doing, most of them will recognize the problem (maybe more than will admit it). It's also a good idea to pay attention to the music lyrics. I would say that if I couldn't write the lyrics on my classroom whiteboard or pass them out without getting in trouble, then the song probably doesn't belong at the dance either.

Posted by: DavidBCohen | October 5, 2010 4:12 AM | Report abuse

Here's another approach: school dances (and especially the all-school ones like proms and homecomings) were actually off the agenda, in many schools, during the late '60's and early '70's. Not because the adults canceled them, but because youth culture was about love beads and torn jeans, so the youth didn't want to do formal dances, which they saw as hopelessly '50's, conformist, etc etc. All by way of saying that there is no reason why any particular social event that we think of as a constant, in high schools and middle schools, is really necessary to a healthy school. If it's not working, for whatever reason, find some other type of event to have.

Posted by: jane100000 | October 5, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

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