Written By: Ben Cosgrove

In late 1948, LIFE revisited a topic that the magazine had covered a number of times in previous years, and would delve into again and again over the next several decades: namely, teenagers. More specifically, the mystifying habits, lingo and fashion choices of teens around the U.S., from Detroit to Des Moines to Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

As LIFE wrote in that 1948 article, titled simply (hyphen and all), “Teen-Agers”:

Every year as school begins boys and girls from 12 to 20 start scurrying around like squirrels after nuts, looking for games to play, new clothes to wear and new songs to sing. Every year by Christmas they somehow manage to figure out a different twist for almost every ordinary thing, like hats and handshakes, dates and dances. [Now] LIFE takes a look around the country to answer the annual question about teen-agers: what are they up to now?

In Atlanta on Thursday the boys have nothing to do with the girls and the girls have nothing to do with the boys. In Des Moines Tuesday is a special day. On Tuesday the boys wear GI shoes to school. In Detroit the boys go in for crazy haircuts, and in Seattle some football players wear hair curlers at night. This year’s fashionable word for a jerk, square or schmo is “geek” in Detroit, “mole” in Philadelphia, “pine” in Atlanta, “tweet” in Chicago, “snook” in Des Moines, “tube” in Los Angeles and “scurb” or “T.W.O” (Teensy Weensy Operator) in Washington, D.C.

Sometimes . . . the teen-agers have to be content with exaggerating the fads that were left to them by their elders. . . . Last year they liked to dance languorously to slow music; this year, with the exception of some pace-setters in California who are reviving the Charleston and the black bottom, they move even more slowly, dragging themselves at a walk around the dance floor.

And so it goes. One would think, reading the article in LIFE its tone one part scornful, three parts amused that the editors of the famous weekly had never been teens themselves. Then again, as the modern notion of the teen years as a quantifiable life stage didn’t exist in full until the early 1940s, perhaps LIFE’s editors were never teens, after all. What lucky moles, snooks and tubes they were.

Finally: Note that “Popular Guy” Earl Reum, who is featured in many of the pictures in this gallery, evidently went on to become what a tribute website calls “the ‘Master Wizard’ of student leadership training.” Dr. Reum died in 2010. Read tributes written by many people whose lives he touched.

Two Cleveland high schoolers at a record-playing meeting of a Frankie Laine fan club, 1948.

1948 Teenagers

Lisa Larsen The LIFE Images Collection/Shutterstock

1948 Teenagers

1948 Teenagers

Lisa Larsen The LIFE Images Collection/Shutterstock

Boy greets girl in the Detroit version of the beer drinker's handshake.

1948 Teenagers

Lisa Larsen The LIFE Images Collection/Shutterstock

Irresistible look he will try out in "Temptation Game" is demonstrated by Bud Brown of Atlanta.

1948 Teenagers

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Object of game is to see how long he and Joan Hale can look into each other's eyes and resist the urge to kiss.

1948 Teenagers

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Soulful look that pretty Joan Hale had on her face is what Bud Brown found himself unable to resist.

1948 Teenagers

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Teenage couple listening to records and having a snack of milk and cookies.

1948 Teenagers

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Boy meets boy with the wild "politician's handshake" peculiar to Des Moines.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Around the windows are six boys who, following current practice, show up outside to talk and eat food passed out to them. Girls pretend parties are secret but make sure word gets around.

1948 Teenagers

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Looking out the windows are four Atlanta girls, interrupted in the midst of a spend-the-night party. These parties are usually held after a dance or a hay ride and girls eat and talk most of the night.

1948 Teenagers

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Sniff Game, where Kleenex is passed by sniffing from nose to nose, is now popular in Oklahoma City.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

"Trick talk" is thought hilarious in Des Moines, where girls like to chat without looking at each other.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Tuesday's shoes are current phenomenon in Des Moines. Every Tuesday high-school boys wear GI shoes, bought at surplus store or inherited from an older brother and called "my old lady's" Army shoes."

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Boogie haircut is the fashion in Detroit. The hair is clipped short on top, worn very long on sides.

1948 Teenagers

Lisa Larsen The LIFE Images Collection/Shutterstock

Beards are hopefully started by a few Oklahoma City boys. Parents hate them, but the girls like them.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Sock hops are current craze in Oklahoma City. Boys and girls at school gym dances check shoes outside to avoid marking gym floor. Dancing is fun, but someone always goes home wearing the wrong shoes.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Popular Guy, Earl Reum, a high-school student, is idol of Denver boys and girls.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Charming the girls in drugstore after school, Earl makes trick necktie stick out. On his left wrist is a tape measure with which he pretends to tell time.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Amusing the class when teacher is out of room, Earl stops up ears with two of his hands as he mixes a fake chemical formulae with his two other hands.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Writing poetry, Earl jots down inspiration in bus. His poems in the school paper are signed "Elbow Reum." After graduation he plans to study for priesthood.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

At student forum conducted by school speaking society, Earl (third from left) serves on panel which is discussing qualifications of "The Perfect Date."

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

The Reum greeting is flashed to a pair of girls on the sidewalk outside of school. All of school's teenagers and even some of the teachers imitate his gesture.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

At faculty meeting Earl meets with his principal (left) and teachers and, as student representative, discusses school's plan to care for three French orphans.

1948 Teenagers

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

"Teenager Dos and Don'ts," 1948.

1948 Teenagers

Herbert Gehr The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

December 20, 1948 cover of LIFE magazine.

December 20, 1948 cover of LIFE magazine.

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