Aging Up and Out of the Teen Programs

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Yesterday Amanda talked about what to do when you’ve got someone too young for your teen programs showing up; today I’m taking the flip side a bit. We all have to deal with it at some point- you’ve built up this awesome set of programs, and have a great following of devoted teens that come to programs, want to talk to you daily, ask you for book ideas, and want to get their hands on the newest materials you get in the teen area.

And then it happens. They turn 18, and they’re thinking that they’re going to keep staying in the teen programs forever, yet you know that there’s an issue. Or you have a new young adult come in that’s interested in the teen programs, and they’ve been referred to your programs by other colleagues, but they’re 19. What do you do?

First, take a look and see what your library’s guidelines are for your teen programs. If there’s nothing written in the policies, then SET something that makes sense to you and MAKE it policy for your programs. I know a lot of libraries that have made it by age: once you hit 18, you’re automatically an adult and therefore relegated to the adult programs.  You can volunteer to assist with teen programs, but can’t be a participant. I even understand the reasoning: at 18, you’re considered an adult by society- you can vote, you can smoke, and by law romance with anyone younger than you can get very complicated and even illegal. I get it. It’s a legal thing, the bright line- same reason why all my teen programs have always started at age 13 no matter what grade a teen is in.

However, if you can, think about cutting it off by grade:  once you graduate high school OR hit a certain age range then you’ve aged out of the teen programs. The main problem I’ve always had with this is that making the teen cut-off 18 years old is that you’re forcibly separating teens from their peers during their junior/senior year. Public schools in particular are inconsistent in their enrollment policies- in some districts if you’re born after September 1st, you’re held back for a year, for others it’s November, and a growing trend is for parents to hold back their kids from being enrolled into kindergarten until they’re 6 years old instead of 5 because they’re not socially ready for school, because they’re either shy or just not mature enough for the testing and rigors of a full-on kindergarten class. Kids who are enrolled in such a way will turn 18 early in their senior year, if not late in their junior year of high school, and because of that, if your teen programs move them out of teen programs before they’re out of high school, they’re going to miss out on that last bit (or year!) of social time with their peers. That is a huge factor, especially as that older teen group is a huge demographic that we seem to lose within public services.

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Now, that’s not to say that you keep everyone until they’re through high school, or that you have to keep everyone who shows up for a teen program. If there are troublemakers or those who are consistently causing problems, definitely use your library’s policies on how to deal with problem patrons and apply them to your programs. I typically have a simplified one hanging around, which boils down to:

  • Don’t harm others
  • Don’t harm yourself
  • Don’t harm the staff
  • Don’t harm the space
  • Any issues, see Mz. Christie

Really simple, but keeps the peace. I also enforce them, and empower my staff to enforce them as well. It’s well-known that there is a three-strike rule,  that if we have to talk to you three times about anything, you’ll be asked to leave for the day. If you’re asked to leave, you can’t attend the program later on the in the day. It’s that simple. And I will know about it.  If for some reason my staff doesn’t tell me about it, someone else will. There are no secrets in library land.

So what to do when your teens age out? GET THEM TO VOLUNTEER. A lot of times there is a gap between the dynamic teen programs we’ve put together and the adult offerings that are available to them after graduation, and they’re feeling a bit lost. By giving them the option to volunteer within the teen and tween programs, they’re still connected to you and their familiar “turf” but they’re stretching their boundaries and expanding what they can do within a safe space. I’ve actually gotten a core group of volunteers that come during college breaks this way, volunteering not only for the teen programs but the tween programs as well. And I’ve also transitioned my graduating teens into “adult” volunteers as well- in my last library it had become just as big deal for them to become a chaperone for the lock-in as it was for the tweens to be able to attend teen programs.

That doesn’t mean that you have to take everyone that volunteers into your tween and teen programs. Select carefully, because not everyone who signs up will have the temperament to work with teens. You’ll know which of your graduating teens will work best with those who are there, and which ones will just cause issues, and you can sort them into different areas, or assign them different tasks that will let you have the least amount of stress.

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However, just because you’ve dealt with your teens doesn’t mean that you have dealt with all of your issues. Just as you have parents and adults trying to come to your tween programs or push their younger kids into your teen program, you can run into adults trying to push themselves into your teen programs on their own.  My favorite reasonings include (with my answers in italics):

  • My teen needs to be chaperoned properly. As you can see, we have a ratio of X staff to Y teens, and they will be within this area for the entire program. You are more than welcome to wait in the library, or if you’d like to leave and come back, the program will be over at Z:30. 
  • We do EVERYTHING together, and today’s our bonding day. That’s a wonderful idea- however, our program is geared for teens ages 13 through 18, and we don’t have any room for adults to participate. We’ve found that the presence of adults actually impedes and intimidates other teens.
  • I may be an adult, but I LOVE reading Young Adult/Teen Books.  Why can’t I participate? This program is geared for those 13-18, and the questions and discussions are for the teens in that age range- unfortunately they’re not going to feel comfortable talking with an adult in the room who’s not a library staff member. However, I can refer you to the adult services staff and you can talk to them about creating a young adult/teen club for adults program where the books are teen level but the participates are older. 
  • There’s nothing in the law that says you can stop me from coming in to this program; it’s actually in the library rules that all programs are open to everyone. We ask that the programs are for the teen age group as that the materials and programming are aimed for that age range. Library staff are cleared to work with teens, and we have a volunteer process if you’d like to volunteer to assist with teen programs or any other library programs. 

The most important thing to remember is to have a policy, a reasoning, and to stick to it consistently. Your teen programs are here for your teens, and any bending of the rules opens a door for things to slip through the cracks and weaken the foundation of everything that you’ve been building. These programs need to be for your teens, and while we want to keep them “ours” forever, once they get to be adults we need to make sure that they know that they’re treasured but they need to make room for the next generation.

What are some of the things you’re doing when your teens age out of your teen programs?

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