You know that point where you are just so fed up with someone’s behavior that kicking them out sounds wonderfully cathartic and cozy and just like the only thing you can do to maintain your sanity? Those times happen. But kicking teens out of the library or constantly nagging them about noise level or movement speed or what have you is not the solution in the long run. This post today goes out to those of you who don’t have a dedicated teen space, or those who, like me, have one that is not staffed. Let’s do this!
Our teen space was carved out of the center of one of the libraries, and it happens to be directly across from the adult reference desk. I love my adult ref colleagues, but working on common stereotypes of teen behavior and how to handle teens can often be a huge challenge. The knee-jerk reaction to any sort of noise is to GIVE A WARNING. I’ve always felt mildly uncomfortable with the whole THREE WARNINGS system because do I also have to implement a good behavior chart and pass out stickers and stuff? Teens often think that being WARNED by an Old Person is hilarious, and continue the behavior to see what happens. Okay, so in this, they are very much like toddlers in bigger bodies. Then, once they’ve hit the tolerance threshold for the adult librarians, they have to leave, which is not my ideal of a happy teen space. I loop through when I can, but I’m not able to monitor their behavior all the time.
So what do you do? Give up? Ban them all? Yell at your coworkers? None of that is helpful. I’ve found that engaging with the teens individually–learning their names, greeting them when they come in–really does wonders for their opinion of you. Suddenly you’re not That Library Person who immediately induces giggles as she approaches, but you’re an actual human. Sure, in their eyes, you’re an Old Human, but that’s okay.
The big thing with my teens is they walk over straight from a local middle school and high school. They have been sitting all day and they are hungry and bored and need to get all the wildness out of them. When I’m not over there, I try to put up a chalkboard prompt or some sort of collaborative art so that they can channel some of their loudness into writing. However, I’ve taken to just going over and starting a craft in the area. They’ll be curious and say, “Hey, what are you doing?” Me: “Oh, you know, just making [whatever I’m making.]” Suddenly there’s a crowd of teens who are Much Too Cool to do the craft but will do it anyway because why not?
Most of the time, our issues with noise, fighting, and general rowdiness center on one specific group with an Instigator. This Instigator is extremely talented, because he can take a perfectly content group of teens and turn them all into screaming, bloodthirsty creatures in about three minutes. It really is quite something. In order to model good behavior, I’ve been inviting his friends to come over and craft with me, and suddenly they’re entirely different teens. They’re nice and funny and passionate.
Recently, I did a scarf-weaving craft for my fandom program. Ostensibly, it was House scarves for Harry Potter, but you could make any kind you wanted. I already had my fandom kids working on their scarves and a trio came in, sans ringleader, sat at a table, and started loudly debating who was which Star Wars character IRL. I sidled over and mentioned we were having a Star Wars Day on May 4th, and one girl asked, “What are you making? Can we do it too?”
Aha, my not-evil plan to get them interested worked! We sat for an hour and a half, weaving and chatting. The most outspoken girl asked if she could stay and work on her scarf, so I left her some yarn. A few weeks later, I was walking past the checkout line when she saw me and yelped, “Pam!” I said “Hi, Teen Girl! What’s up?” “I finished my scarf. It was so cool.” “Awesome!”
I was so happy, I may have floated off to break. Your activity doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. But if you give teens who may be giving you trouble something else to put their energy into, it’s pretty amazing what they produce. And it’s really a lot more fun than having to yell at them time and time again.