Picture it: You’ve set up an amazing program for teens involving- insert idea here- and everything is perfect. Your program begins when suddenly, someone arrives looking a little, well, young. What do you do? Let it slide? Hey, it’s not that big of a deal, right? Plus it’ll up your numbers! Or do you confront the impostor and tell them to scram? We don’t want your kind here!
While both are potential options, in reality they’re not valid options. Having younger kids showing up to your programs is tough! You want to make the library a place where all are welcome. But when it comes to teen programs, in reality, it’s got to be all about the teens. So what do you do when someone younger than your intended age group shows up?
First, find out what works for you, your comfort level, and your library policy. I typically approach the child, ask their name, and introduce myself as the teen librarian. I let them know that the program they’ve joined is just for teens and over on the kid’s side we have tons of stuff just for them! Most of the time this works out fine and the child heads out.
But sometimes? A child will show up with a caregiver in tow. They usher their child into your program and sit down with them ready to start the project you’ve set up. Talking to a parent can sometimes be even more intimidating than the child! But, again, I would say almost the same thing as before.
“Hi, my name is Amanda and I am the Teen Librarian here at the library! Just so you are aware, the program we’re having here is for teens only. We have tons of great programs for kids grades K-5!”
“Oh yes, I know but my child is far too advanced for those programs so we’re going to stay here.”
Yup. It’s the dreaded “my child is the smartest in the universe!” Sometimes you’ll even get the “Oh but they just looooooove Doctor Who so much! They can stay for a little while, right??”
Emphasize to the parent that it’s a teen only program and that you’re very sorry but it really needs to stay just for teens. I would also encourage them to come back when the child is of age and if you have a flyer handy for kid’s programs, point out some that would be similar to the program you’re hosting.
When it comes down to it, teen programs need to stay for teens. It could be really tempting to let someone stay because you want to up your numbers or you feel bad. In the end though, it’s going to alienate your teens. They’re going to see little kids coming to your program and not want to attend anything you put together for them because they don’t feel like it’s really for them.
This might also be a great opportunity to look at what is being offered at the library. Perhaps it’s time to set up some tween programs just for the age range you’re finding is wanting to show up to your teen programs!
How do you handle younger kids coming to your teen only programs? Let us know what has worked or hasn’t worked for you in the comments!
Hello there! My name is Amanda Heidema and I am the Teen Services Librarian at the Herrick District Library in Holland, Michigan. I graduated with my MLIS in 2011 from Wayne State University and have been working in teen services for eight years! When not reading, you can find me enjoying the great outdoors or snuggling on the couch eating popcorn and watching a movie with my two year old and my husband. I am also an avid gamer; video, table top, board games, card games, love ’em all!