Teen Librarian Blues: When Bad Teen Behavior Gets You Down

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We’ve all been there.

You advocate for teens at your library constantly. You listen to the complaints of staff or patrons about the noise, the trash, the attitude. You keep up on the latest trends, books, movies and T.V. shows. You try to be cool, someone they can relate to; “hip,” without being a pushover. You do hours of online research on blogs and Pinterest to find that great idea for a program or a craft – something that will get them into the library and keep them coming back for more.

They are the most under-served group of library patrons, the ones you try so hard for…. and they are driving you effing nuts.

Today is the first day of our Summer Reading Program and I am trying something entirely new for the Teens, which, of course, means I had to reinvent the wheel this year and do a ton of extra work. I have no idea how it will go, if they will like it, if the adult staff (who will have to deal with the program because YA is on the Adult level) will hate me. But it makes me reflect on WHY I am doing it…other than because it’s my job. Sure, I want to increase my summer stats, like everyone else, and I’m hoping that this program will seem easy and fun. But I think what I really want is for those teens – the ones that come to the library, but not to check out books – to participate in the Summer Reading Program. More than that, I want them to have fun, to think the library is cool, and to think I’M COOL.

Image result for cool librarian(I’m going to have to buy this.) 

I have had run-ins with teens over the years, but a few stick out in my mind and they still bother me. Recently, we’ve had a group of girls and boys in 7th and 8th grade hanging out in our lobby and just being…annoying. Sitting in the windows, standing on the tables, bouncing a basketball, riding their bikes – yep, they think it’s hilarious to start on the 2nd level (street level) and ride the bike to the elevator, take it down to the lower lobby, and ride it outside again in to the back parking lot. We’ve also found them all in one bathroom with the lights off and their phone flashlights on….I don’t even want to know why….

I feel like I always go through these stages of dealing with teen behavior:

  1. I’ll ignore some of the little things at first and hope it will go away on its own. Not the ball bouncing and bike riding – those I have to stop – but the noise level, the trash, etc. Maybe they are just here today and won’t be back.
  2. I’ll be the cool librarian. i.e. “Hey guys, I need you to get down off the table because I really don’t feel like wiping up the blood after you crack your head open. Thanks!”
  3. I’ll try to bribe them to be good. “Do you guys like popcorn? I have this extra bag leftover from our TAB meeting (insert advertising here.) Oh, and here’s some candy!!”
  4. I’ll throw other staff members & patrons under the bus.Pssst….So listen guys, I just heard a patron complaining about you and the director said she was thinking about calling the police. You might want to get out of here.”
  5. Depending on the crowd, I might try to get them to “help” me with something, like moving tables or making me a list of movies or music we should buy, something constructive/distracting. (I’ve attempted to get them involved in programs and schedule them when I think they will be there, but they tend to just move to a different part of the building or leave.)
  6. I’ll try reverse psychology. “Seriously, guys? Even my 2 year old knows how to throw her trash away.”
  7. I’ll LOSE my COOL. (Like, physically, emotionally and socially.)

 Image result for angry librarian

Usually after this happens, I immediately feel awful. I feel like I’ve failed at my job and I’ve failed the teens too. I wonder if there was some other way I could have reached them. I’ve attended workshops about dealing with bad teen behavior and I know the research on how teens’ brains work. I know some of these kids have a bad home life, so they are hanging out at the library, or some are just trying to be “cool” themselves and impress their friends while their parents aren’t around. But sometimes I just lose it and I feel like a jerk.

However, I forget about the other teens that come to the library. The ones that volunteer or attend programs or actually get excited about making book displays and decorating the Teen Space. Those teens are awesome. And I guess you can’t please everyone – but I’ll probably keep trying.

I would LOVE to know about other ways to deal with bad teen behavior in the library so please leave comments!


~ Molly


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