Youth Lens

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Language Arts

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Youth Lens

Through the Eyes of Adolescence: The Youth Lens and Literature

Adolescence: a time period typically dismissed as one of raging hormones and sexual curiosity and/or the period of transition into adulthood, the becoming stage of life (Moje, pp. 214-215). These views, upheld by adults and adolescents alike, revolve around deficient models that are as socially constructed as adolescence itself. Such deficient thinking leads us to the incorrect assumption that our youth are in a "phase of life filled with problems, tensions, and dilemmas" making the study of their literacy practices trivial when they are actually "tools for meaning making, boundary crossing, and agency" (Moje, p. 216). I contest that the theoretical framework of the Youth Lens (Sarigianides, Petrone, & Lewis) not only functions to establish adolescence as a social construct, but can place students in a position of power in relation to literature (both young adult and canonical). Given the theoretical underpinnings established through a Youth Lens, adolescents can actively establish resistance against the negative social identities representative of "adolescence" and "construct their own discourses of adolescence for the consumption of adults," (Petrone et al.) thus transporting them from passive to active participants in their own sociocultural image and identity construction.

The picture above illustrates dominant biological and psychological (and largely negative) viewpoints of adolescence. However, consider the historical role of adolescence: in other time periods youth have been acceptingly married with children, worked in both manually demanding and managerial careers, and were generally not "regarded as irresponsible, as incapable, as yet to fully mature" (Sarigianides et al. p. 16). Realizing this truth showcases that adolescents is not a universal experience (Petrone et al, p. 509) and enables readers, regardless of age, to accept the idea of adolescence as a construct and proceed to explore literature (and politics, social discourse, media, etc.) through Youth Lens.

What is Youth Lens?A Youth Lens is a way to explore how texts "reinforce and/or disrupt various figurations of adolescence and youth" (Petrone et al, p. 511). It uses the following questions, developed by Sarigianides, Petrone, and Lewis, to springboard discussions and focus on adolescence as a construct:1. How does the text represent adolescence or adolescents?2. What role does the text reinforce and/or critique the dominant ideas about adolescents?These questions make it easier to read adolescence as a socially constructed idea instead of an innate natural process every person experiences through the ages of 12-19. They are also only the beginning of a long line of inquisitions that can be made about the positioning of adolescents in literary works, including but not limited to: roles of adolescents based on their age and position regarding "adults"; the dominant developmental views concerning adolescence; expectations placed on our youth as a result of social and political constructs (Petrone et al, pp. 512-516); how youth develop, merge, and constrain identity fluidly based on these constructs; etc. Such questions allow youth to explore, understand, and express their own understandings about the construct of adolescence, in turn allowing them to become voices for other questions and ideas concerning their own portrayal.

Using Youth Lens in ClassroomsTeachers can use Youth Lens to teach their students not only ways to articulate their position in literature and the world, but to articulate their identities and how they wish to be seen outside of governing social constructs. Such articulation moves beyond just literary analysis to dialogues concerning the manipulation of those in power, the manipulation and struggles of identity, dominant social constructs, and countless other relevant issues in our technologically savvy society. Furthermore, teaching such theory promotes critical thinking and writing skills.Petrone, Lewis, and Sarigianides have developed questions (nonextensive) related to literary elements known to students: characterization, setting, plot, theme, and metaphor. Each of these literary elements (along with many others) can be questioned in a way that focuses reading with a Youth Lens. For example, an implied question regarding setting can include "how do these contexts enable and/or constrain identities available for youth protagonists?" (Petrone et al, p. 518). Since these literary elements are well-established early in education, they thus ease students (and adults unfamiliar with this particular lens) into the theoretical reading of literary texts with a Youth Lens.

The clips from The 100 (top left) and The Hunger Games (bottom left) illustrate popular and recognizable Young Adult Literature. These texts position youth in particular ways and the Youth Lens can be used to explore whether they reinforce or critique dominant views of adolescence in texts that supposedly represent and relate to adolescents. For example, in the clip from The 100, how are adolescents portrayed in relation to the lack of adult supervision and advice? Does this portrayal represent typical viewpoints of adolescents in our society? This question can be expanded and reshaped as adult presence becomes a prevailing issue. Other elements, such as setting, metaphor, and gender roles/sexuality can all be explored in these texts based on figurations of adolescents and youth.

1. Moje, Elizabeth B. "Re-framing adolescent literacy research for new times: studying youth as a resource." Reading Research and Instruction 41.3 (2002): 211-228. 2. Petrone, Robert et al. "The Youth Lens: analyzing adolescence/ts in literary texts." Journal of Literacy Research 46.4 (2015): 506-533. 3. Sarigianides, Sophia T. et al. "How re- thinking adolescence helps re-imagine the teaching of English." English Journal 104.3 (2015): 13-18.


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