We have all been there. A teen approaches the desk and asks for help finding a book to read. Not something for an assignment but something for pleasure. You get super excited, because isn’t this what we live for? To share our love of books with someone looking for a read? And then the ax falls…Mom or Dad comes up behind the teen and you can see a change in the teen. Tension. Stress. Uncertainty. You have a feeling this isn’t going to be the Reader’s Advisory session you were looking forward to.
As you ask the teen what they are looking for, the parent begins to answer. Looking from the teen to the parent, you realize that you are going to have to change gears. For some, this can be hard. I know that many of you want to focus on the teen but when you have a parent that is super involved you must make sure that you include them in the transaction.
First, thank the parent for their input. Let them know that it helps you to have as much information as possible about what is acceptable and interesting to both them AND their teen so that you can match the teen up with the right book. Secondly, make sure to speak to the teen even if the parent continues to speak for them. For example, if you ask the teen what kind of books they enjoy reading and Mom says “Little Sara really enjoys reading biographies.” Turn to Little Sara and say, “So, you enjoy reading biographies? Who was your favorite biography about? Do you enjoy any other types of books?” This will a) give the teen the opportunity to let you know that biographies are not their cup of tea and b) allow the teen an opening to tell you what they really do enjoy.
Actually listen to what the parent is saying. Don’t get frustrated with a parent who wants to guide you into giving their child a book from the children’s section because they are worried about content that is too adult for their child. While the teen may know what they are interested in, the parent knows the maturity level of their child and what they can reasonably handle. Use your reflective listening skills. Let the parent know that you hear what they are saying and you understand their concerns. When a parent tells you that they prefer their teen read books like Little House on The Prairie or Junie B Jones, reflect back to them, “I understand that you are concerned with the content that can be found in some YA books. Let’s see if we can find a book that addresses your concerns while still providing an interesting story for Little Sara.” Let the parent know that there are books in both the Y and YA sections of the library that provide clean reads that are age appropriate for their child.
I like to take the teen and the parent to the section of the library that houses the Y books. This allows the teen to see that they aren’t children’s books. There are many interesting choices that can be found here. I ask the teen what they have read (that was acceptable with their parent) in the past and can usually find something that they can walk away with. In addition, it is good to have a few tried and true titles on hand. If you have a teen that can’t tell you what they like but the parent requires they read something that is safe, if you have a few different titles from different genres to pull from, you won’t be left staring at the books in confusion.
One of the most helpful tactics that I have found is the Bookmate form. This is a book matching form that we use in our library to help match readers up with books they might enjoy. Used mostly for adult readers who aren’t sure what to read next, it asks the typical RA questions of “what are you looking for?”, “What genre?”, “What do you like in a book?”, “Dislike?”, What television shows do you enjoy?”, along with two questions that gauge how comfortable the reader is with sexual content and violence. When I have a teen and a parent who are just not on the same page and it is difficult to find a book that pleases them both, I will give them a form and ask them to fill it out together. This opens a dialogue between the two so they can see what each is looking for. It then allows me to find a book that fills all the criteria. This has been a very successful technique.
While teen RA with an involved parent can be a difficult situation, it is not impossible. The most important part of working with a teen and parent when doing RA is to listen. You want to hear both the teen’s interests and needs while still acknowledging the parent’s concerns. You do not want to alienate either party. Let them know that you are here to help and can offer suggestions but remind them that you haven’t read everything. Give them resources to help them in finding their own books such as Novelist and commonsensemedia.org. By having these resources on hand and explaining how to use them, you are empowering the family to make their own choices. Offer them several choices that fulfill their needs and let them know that you can always offer more should none of them suffice. Give them the opportunity to look at the books you offer together without you standing there as your presence can feel like pressure. In the end, you want the teen to walk away with a book that they are interested to read and that the parent feels good about.
Do you have any special techniques for doing RA with teens and involved parents?