Ask an Agent: What do you think about age requirements?

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Question: I’ve gotten a lot of flack from parents and other librarians about putting an age requirement for my teen programming (typical it’s 6th-12th grade, but for our summer reading program it’s 12-17 and others vary by the start age or grade). What is your opinion and reasoning behind adding age requirements? I love intergenerational programming when it works and I’d love if when you make a program open for all ages then all ages really could come and enjoy together, but I’ve seen this not be the case. The only time has been with really large programs where a teen comes with other friends and just hang by themselves. Most of my teen programs are smaller due to supplies and budget. I’m also just wondering what your advice on advocating for teen programming being actually for teens without it sounding like I just want to be exclusive and discriminate based on age. I also just want help seeing the other side of things. We don’t keep kids of a certain age from accessing teen books, so what about programs? Sorry for the long question on top of more questions!


Jenni (South San Francisco Public Library) says:

I add age requirements for a couple of reasons.  First, sometimes an age requirement is necessary based on the materials/content of the program. Our LEGO club, for example, is open only to kids older than seven. Many of our craft programs are similar, due to the use of sharp scissors, tools, etc.  The second reason is so that patrons understand the intended audience of the program and so that particular audience can feel comfortable attending. I don’t allow 18-year olds to attend my 5-8 year old book club because that would make the parents and children (and the librarian) uncomfortable.  I have seen in the past that if I allow anyone to come to a craft program, we get a couple of senior citizens who come to everything, and they’ll be there super-early, which stops any kids from coming because the program now looks like an “adult” program. I took a bit of flak for this as well when I started enforcing the upper age limit on my tween crafts. I understand if a parent comes with a patron and needs to bring a sibling, but our tween crafts are specifically for our tween patrons.

Paige (Lethbridge Public Library) says:

I’m super strict about limiting my teen programs to just teens.  For my library, that means grades 7-12.  (Though I am a bit more flexible for summer programs, in terms of letting in teens starting grade 7 in September, or teens that have just graduated from high school.)  I’ve had to have conversations with parents a few times, mostly when they want to bring their 8-9 year olds to one of our teen movies.  “But it’s G-rated!”  “My kids are really mature!”  Yeah, don’t care. 😉  We have plenty of programs for elementary and preschool kids – the Friday teen programs are the one thing that’s just for teens.  They need that dedicated time and space, and they deserve to have something reserved just for them.

In terms of intergenerational, wider-age programming, my library does do some big programs for holiday/community events.  We’ve done all age dance parties for the city’s historical festival, and massive all age costume parties at Halloween.  Those end up being mostly preschool/elementary, with the occasional teen sibling getting dragged along.  My teens really aren’t interested in hanging out with the littles – they want their own stuff, and they want it exclusive to their actual peers.

Sarah (Warren-Trumbull County Public Library) says:

Age requirements are important for SO many reasons!

  1. Appropriateness of the crafts, games, & subject – why is your third grader watching Big Bang Theory! Almost all the jokes are about sex! Also, I don’t go step by step with the crafts with the teens. The materials are there with directions, but it’s not a guided event the way most of our children’s events are. Trivia is probably going to be too hard, and if it’s an event for a teen book, they probably won’t have read it anyways.
  1. Audience: I get mostly high school kids. Usually telling a parent ‘There maybe high school seniors in attendance’ scares them off, especially when I tell them that they might hear things they perhaps may not want their child to hear. Sure, they can’t swear or give sex tips, but there was definitely a conversation at my event last week about the importance of using condoms amongst my guys – and that is NOT a conversation I’m going to stop!
  1. Teen events are carefully thought out for TEENS. Teens need time to socialize with each other, to build relationships among their peers in a safe environment and libraries are a great place for this. They need time away from parents and other adults to learn some independence, and they need time away from younger children so they can simply be teens and not caregivers.


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