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The Bad Old Days?



But, also, there were no murders, no rapes, no drug overdoses, no kids falling out of windows or dying from drinking too much.

Sitting on my desk in front of me is a newspaper with the final pictures of Taylor Behl. She's leaving her dormitory at 10:20:08 p.m. Benjamin Fawley, standing in the lobby, stares at the security camera (we didn't have those either — we didn't need them).

Taylor, reports said, left her dorm possibly because her roommate was entertaining in their room. So Taylor, age 17, at nearly 10:30 p.m., leaves with a man old enough to be her father whose history probably would not have made "the approved dating list."

We read that those were the last pictures of a very young, very beautiful teenager.

Pictures of a teen leaving the dorm at 10:30 wouldn't have happened in our day. That was the time of "in loco parentis" — the custom of colleges becoming the parents for young women, in particular, who were away from home for the first time and were left in the care of the college.

Oh sure, we fussed about the rules, tried to find ways around them. This will sound totally Neanderthal, but raincoats had to be worn over our shorts or slacks. We had to be "skirted." Five girls in my freshman class got "shipped" because they drank wine with their parents at a local hotel and someone ratted. This was a girls' school. Of course, there aren't many of those either now!

But not long after we graduated in the late '60s, as young men went off to Vietnam often in their teens, suddenly many of the rules on college campuses seemed ludicrous. They could go to war, but they couldn't vote or buy beer. (World War II and Korea had even more teens in the military, but those were different kinds of wars — not controversial.) The women's movement, prompted a great deal by the freedom that came with birth-control pills, brought new free-thinking among girls from my sheltered, terrified-of-getting-pregnant generation.

So there were campus demonstrations, college presidents' offices were occupied and students rebelled about nearly everything. It was definitely different from just a few years before.

The kids won.

Out went the housemothers and the rules, and anything-goes arrived. And colleges were faced with needs for guards, security cameras and parking places … lots of them. Parents of freshmen prayed and left their teenagers on their own, absolutely on their own, for the first time.

Which brings us back to Taylor Behl.

Have we gone too far?

Does it even make sense for a 17-year-old in a metropolitan area — or any area for that matter — to be able to leave her dormitory late at night without anyone knowing where she is or whom she is with? And any parent has heard the stories of the lack of privacy in dorm rooms, of assorted visitors who come and go at all hours without consideration for those who happen to be paying for the other half of the room.

Condom machines in the restrooms of dormitories ... are you kidding? Our parents would have whisked us out of those schools and nailed us into our bedrooms at home. But handy condoms have been in dorms for years now. At least, I saw them in my son's dorm years ago.

As I write this, I'm guessing that my adult children will probably put bags over their heads or pretend they have never seen me before if anyone should ask if I'm their mother. I know that would have happened a few years ago.

But you know, they're parents now too. As they look at their precious little toddlers and realize that before they know it those dear little children will be teenagers and off to college, they just might think housemothers and curfews weren't such a bad idea.

Sadly, we all know at least one case where some '50s and '60s thinking might have made a difference. S

Nancy Finch is a Bon Air mother, grandmother, sometimes freelance writer and executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail. She always wears a raincoat over her shorts and slacks.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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