Ask an Agent: Swearing Policy for Teens?

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Question: Does your library have a swearing policy for teens? My library has an unclear policy where if teens drop an f-bomb, they’re immediately kicked out; but “lesser” swears get a warning. It’s really ambiguous, and I’m hoping to update it!

Jenni (South San Francisco Public Library) says:

We have a general no profanity rule in our library. This is usually a problem with only a handful of adult patrons and one particular tween patron who forgets that everyone can hear him even when his headphones are on.  Our policy is to give a warning first, then to ask the patron to leave for the rest of the day. If it’s a child, we allow them to call their parents on the library’s phone if they don’t have a phone with them.


Sarah (Warren-Trumbull County Public Library) says:

Our policy, of course, is no swearing or other inappropriate language. I like to say ‘inappropriate’ as opposed to ‘bad words’ because, quite frankly, I don’t think there are bad words, but there are words that are and are not appropriate based on the situtation. Why are the words okay in the books on the shelves but not in their conversations? We’ve talked a lot about this, and how there will be times when they simply can’t swear (on the job, etc), and this is great time to learn that self-control. I often tell that I swear quite a lot when I’m not at work (which is true!), but obviously I don’t while on the job since it’s inappropriate. This is usually met with astonishment, and always their delight when I do accidentally slip. It’s nice, I think, for them to see that we’re human, too.

For our teen space, ‘inappropriate’ isn’t just the traditional curse words, but includes name-calling, various racially-charged words, using ‘gay’ as an insult, etc. We are a dedicated LGBTQIA safe zone and no-bullying zone, and I shut down all those behaviors as soon as I hear them. This includes talking about how this anime or that book is stupid and only an idiot would like them, as you never know who’s listening and frankly I get exhausted listening to it. Instead I encourage them to talk about what they like or what they didn’t like about something, rather than just hating on it.

All that being said, of course we have problems. I usually let one more minor swear through, but if I hear an f-bomb or terrible insult, I yell right away. Just something simple like ‘Watch your language, please!’ If they question it, I just say ‘it’s inappropriate for this space. If you want to talk like that, you can go outside.’ If they do it again, ‘This is your final warning. Do it again and you’re gone.’ I’ve actually never had to kick anyone out for language, as that either scares them or they simply talk quieter. Be firm, and make eye contact. No, it’s not fun, but definitely effective.


This is the swear jar that we started a few years ago. It really does work – the kids, when bringing a new friend who perhaps swears, will always point and say ‘you’ll have to pay!’ I have only used it a few times, as the aforementioned discussions usually work. It’s prominent when they walk in and often pointed out – a lot of parents and teachers have commented that they need one – and just seems to work! Before we had it, we had many more problems with swearing.


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