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Research Papers on Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids

Research papers on Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids look at the social problem of poverty, drugs and youth violence among kids that feel they have no hope. Have Paper Masters use Teenage Wasteland in a research paper on the phenomena of disparage among youth.

In 1991, Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids was published.  The author, Donna Gaines was a certified New York social worker who had gone back to school during the 1980’s, working on her doctorate degree in Sociology at State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Then, on March 11, 1987, news was released that four teenagers in Bergenfield, New Jersey, had committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in the Chevy Camaro owned by one of the teens.  Donna Gaines found herself unable to let go of a unique burden that she carried to investigate and report on something more than trying to answer the “why” of the epidemic rise in rates of teen suicides.  In her own words:

Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids

From the beginning, I believed that the Bergenfield suicide symbolized a tragic defeat for young people.  Something was happening in the larger society that was not yet comprehended.

Teenage Wasteland - The Plot

The editor at the Village Voice (where Gaines was working as a freelance journalist) asked her to go to Bergenfield.  Gaines knew that her background in the social work and her identification with this suburban area in which she had lived had more than qualified her for the task.  She accepted. But from the outset, Gaines became determined to differentiate the Bergenfield “multiple-death pact” from others.  She comments that:  “As experts speculated over the deaths on Bergenfield, none could recall a teenage suicide pact involving four people dying together; it was historically unique ... because the suicide pact was a collective act, it warrants a social explanation ...” 

Teenage Wasteland - The Characters

Since the four had only been close friends that were not romantically involved, the author wanted to uncover the nature of the intimate social bond linking them together so strongly that it would cause all four to end their lives together.  Gaines was incensed by the superficial stigma given to the teens by the media labeling them as the following:

  • “dropouts”
  • “druggies”
  • “troubled losers”
  • “burnouts” from the “upper-poor’ white ethnic suburb of northern New Jersey.” 

Gaines went to find out how the teens became “burnouts.”

Gaines begins to delve deeply into the personal backgrounds of the teens, only to find a disturbing picture of troubled, broken families, drug and alcohol abuse, and adolescent rebellion against adult authority.  This was not anything new.  But, after a second suicide attempt by two more teens in the exact same location (a garage in a parking lot) and in the same manner occurred, followed by a twenty-year-old in his family’s garage, the adults and officials of Bergenfield joined the ranks of other towns across America in agreement that “the ‘problem of hopelessness’ among youth was national, not local.”

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