At Seventeen

Janis Ian, 1975

How does the singer of this song describe herself? What image do you get of her from this song? How likely was it that her image of herself was accurate?

Summarize the message of this song. How do the music and instrumentation reinforce the message?

Could this song apply to your school? Who are the popular groups at your school? Why are they popular? Has that changed much since 1975, when this song was written?

How did most teenagers spend their time a hundred years before this song? Work at home, farm, factory. How was teens' value determined? How well they worked. When were students first expected to go to high school? What happened to cause that change? Industrialization, child labor laws, mass media.

What challenges does a delayed entry into the work force make for students? Social structure built around school; placing value on things other than work; physical maturity before the ability to make a living.

What contemporary problems are rooted in the "pressure cooker" of high school? Drugs, violence, teen pregnancy, etc. How are teens judged in high school? Sports, grades, appearance, popularity, rebelliousness, etc. Who tends to value what?

How have TV and movies propagated this value system? How do TV ads keep these values alive?

"At Seventeen" performed by Janis Ian on Between the Lines, Sony Music Entertainment, © 1975. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


For more information on Janis Ian, visit her official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source

Sheet music cover for "At Seventeen."

Janis Ian (b. 1951) was born and raised in New York City. In 1963 she wrote her first song, “Hair of Spun Gold,” the lyrics of which were published in Broadside Magazine the following year. In 1964 she also began performing in public. Her first recorded hit was “Society’s Child,” a controversial song about an interracial relationship. After moving to California, Ian began composing songs for other performers.

Ian wrote “At Seventeen” after reading about debutante parties in the society pages of the New York Times. The song earned her a Grammy award in 1975.

Compare this song to:

"Wives and Lovers" (Unit 8)



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