How can sex, relationships, and health education pedagogies meaningfully address the role new media plays in young people’s relational lives? How can these pedagogies also take an intersectional and holistic lens to young people’s seemingly individual experiences of sex, gender, relationality, and violence? These are the research questions that have guided Dr. Alanna Goldstein’s work as a SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow this past year. Dr. Goldstein considers these questions as particularly vital to address at this historical moment, as the Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered how young people conduct and experience their social, romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships.
Working alongside Professor Sarah Flicker in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, Dr. Goldstein has been involved in several research projects examining intersections of youth, sexuality, health, and education. She led a year-long qualitative research project with young people across Canada examining their experiences of dating, sexuality, and relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic. This research on teen girls' online dating relationships during COVID-19 revealed that school closures and physical distancing restrictions heightened the already integral role new media and online platforms play in young people’s dating, sexual, romantic, and platonic relationships. This near-total immersion in online spaces appeared to be taking a negative toll on young people’s mental and emotional health, as many new media platforms were seen to degrade communication, connection, and a sense of trust. To the extent that adolescent relationships represent key sites for identify formation and social development, results from this study suggest the need for parents, educators, and policymakers to prioritize young people’s in-person relationships, through ensuring access to in-person schooling, extra-curriculars, and other social and community supports.
Yet even as Covid-19 measures appeared to negatively impact young people’s health, Dr. Goldstein’s research also indicated that the distance provided by school closures and other isolation measures had provided some youth with the space and time necessary to engage in new modes of self-reflection. Some participants indicated gaining insights into their own relationship patterns, boundaries, and expectations, and many reflected on the newfound visibility of the emotional labour involved in maintaining their relationships at a distance. Results from this study on COVID-19, adolescent relationship maintenance and implications for health education therefore suggest the need for health education pedagogies to move beyond the tendency to discuss youth relationships as existing along a simplistic binary of ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy,’ as young people broadly experience their relationships in relation to more nuanced considerations of authenticity, labour, communication, and care. Results also point to the need to better integrate media literacy pedagogies with sex education curricula, as for young people today, sex, love, and the media are intricately interlinked.
In addition to this work, Dr. Goldstein has also taken a leadership research role on a million-dollar research project funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, in partnership with Planned Parenthood Ottawa and the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women. She has spent the past year working with community partners to develop a new curriculum intervention for Ontario students aimed at preventing teen dating violence. She led the design, implementation and analysis of focus groups and interviews with Ontario youth from marginalized populations to better understand how they construct their ideas of healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how they would like to see these topics addressed in schools. Participants suggested that current sex education pedagogies continue to be Eurocentric and heteronormative in ways that do not resonate with many Ontario students. They also suggested that new media and media representations were central to how they developed their notions of desirable relationships, and that these topics should be more explicitly included in relationships education curricula. Drawing on this data, Dr. Goldstein assisted in the development of a 5-part workshop series that is culturally inclusive, trauma-informed, and that better centres the lives and experiences of LGBTQ + youth. This curriculum will be delivered in virtual Grade 9 classes in Ontario schools in 2021-2022, and Dr. Goldstein will be involved in the evaluation study measuring its efficacy.
Dr. Alanna Goldstein’s work examines intersections of youth, sexuality, media, health, and pedagogy. She is deeply invested in conducting qualitative research with young people that attends to the stories they tell about their relational lives, and that moves beyond the tendency to construct young people as inherently at-risk. She is committed to developing sex, relationships, and health education pedagogies that are meaningful, comprehensive, and intersectional, and that centre an ethics of care.