Sophia Sarigianides, Ph.D. Rampant Teen Sex: Teen Sexuality and the Promise of Happiness as Obstacles to Re-Thinking Adolescence

English professor Sophia Sarigianides studies social constructions of adolescence and their impact on representations of youth in young adult literature, as well as how ideas about adolescence impact teachers’ perceptions of students, of curriculum, and of teacher preparation coursework.

“I study what teachers, teacher candidates, and young people think and believe about the concept of adolescence and how this impacts the teaching and learning of English,” says Sarigianides.

Her recent Journal of Youth Studies (October 2014) article, “Rampant teen sex: teen sexuality and the promise of happiness as obstacles to rethinking adolescence,” shows how efforts to introduce experienced teachers to theories of adolescence as a construct become stymied when such re-conceptualizations of youth include views of youth as sexual. During her third year studying for her doctorate in English education, she had the opportunity to teach a graduate level course called “Adolescence & Literature.”

“I took the existing title of the course seriously and looked into a book that had been on my shelf, Act Your Age! Lesko’s cultural analysis of adolescence as a social construct transformed

the class and my scholarship,” says Sarigianides.

This led to the particular way that she teaches her young adult literature course for English teachers and the year-long study in a local, urban school that led to the “Rampant Teen Sex” journal article.

“Prior to the 1890s, young people held more responsibilities in the world and in the home,” she says. “Students and teachers in the field respond strongly to learning this history and to tracing

the effects of our current (predominantly negative) views of adolescence onto real youth.” Teachers who work with middle school and high school aged students rely on understandings of adolescence for their assumptions on what to expect from their students. Research has shown

that negative perceptions of adolescence limit what teachers and teacher candidates seek from their teacher preparation as well as what they decide is appropriate curriculum for their students. Sarigianides says, “I seek to change how teachers in the field think about adolescence and how

this affects the real youth in their English classes.”

At the study’s end, most of the teachers’ perspectives had shifted greatly as a result of different types of reading focused on a constructed adolescence. Most participants agreed their views of adolescence were most affected by the controversial novel, Weetzie Bat. The novel describes gay

marriage, children out of wedlock, abortion, and the AIDS epidemic, in language that makes it accessible to the pre-teen and early teen reader.

“If teacher education or professional development intends to shift educators’ ideas about adolescence, risky portrayals of youth may present the greatest challenges, but also the greatest possibilities for shifting thinking,” says Sarigianides in the article.

Professor Sarigianides holds a Ph.D. in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University; an M.A. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine; and a B.A. in English from UCLA.

Visit the English Department at Westfield State University