Interrogating the Terms

Your Task

In this assignment, you will spend some time exploring and interrogating the idea of the adolescent as a constructed concept. Since young adult literature is written for teens by adults, it’s important to consider the ways that adults and society as a whole define and perceive adolescence/ts.


The written product for this research will be an informal essay of 2-3 pages in length. It should be double-spaced, using 1” margins and 12-point serif font.


To interrogate these terms, I’d like you to consider these questions as you conduct the activities listed below:

  • What motivations have been behind the crafting and use of these terms?
  • How does this construct influence young people from the ages of 12-21?
  • How does it influence adults, in their thinking and relationships and actions towards young people in this age range?

You will engage in this interrogation using at least two of the activities from the list below:

  • Watch a teen movie and reflect on the way that teens are portrayed in the movie (and how this might influence the teens viewing the movie who may interpret this as a “normal” portrayal of teen life). Pay attention to the year the film was released as that may suggest ways that perceptions of adolescence have changed over time:
    • Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink (NF), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (NF), Say Anything
    • Can’t Buy Me Love (NF), Girls Just Want to Have Fun (NF), Legally Blonde (NF)
    • She’s All That, Mean Girls (NF), Clueless (NF), Grease (NF), 10 Things I Hate About You, Easy A, Juno, Never Been Kissed
    • You might also do this for a TV series that you’re already familiar with, watching two or three episodes to refresh your memory (see this Wikipedia page for a list of possibilities)
  • Spend some time browsing through two or three magazines aimed at teens—read the articles but also look at the advertising aimed at teens:
    • TeenVogue, Seventeen, M, Justine, Twist, Glitter
    • SI Kids, Neo, PCGamer/Xbox Mag, Skateboarding Mag
  • Read a chapter from a book on raising teens. Search for books on Amazon and many will pop up; some of these are available from the HBLL or you may find them locally (or even in your parents’ bookshelves). Alternatively, you can search the HBLL index using the keyword “Parent and teenager—United States” and browse the results.
  • Peruse a self-help book aimed at teens and explore the ways that adults seek to shape or guide teens through artifacts like this. On the HBLL index, use the “Teenagers—Life skills guides” keyword to pull up some titles.
  • Peruse the archives of Time magazine related to special issues with articles on teens and issues related to teens ( You might consider the way perceptions have changed over time, but especially focus on more recent issues and how this stage in life is perceived by adults.
  • Interview a teenager, asking them about how they define adolescence, how they perceive the way adults perceive them, and/or how they feel different from the “normal” teenager.

Of course, you will view all of this through the lens of your own experience as a teen—so you can use your experience as a way of filtering and/or interpreting these things (so long as you don’t overgeneralize from your own experience).


I will evaluate your essay holistically, giving you a letter grade based on how deeply you interrogate these terms and how well you connect the experiences you engage in to a broader critique of the terms.