Teens are tricky, but only if we approach them with that mindset. The chapters we read this week by Jones made me ponder the true goal of youth services, and if we are working towards that goal.
Some salient points brought up by Jones include the following:
- The "problem" isn't with the teens themselves, but how they are treated.
- Youth development should focus on building strengths and reducing weaknesses.
- Rather than thinking about what we can do for teens, what if we considered what we can do with teens?
- Youth services and teen programs can be self-fulfilling prophecies, good or bad.
I subscribe to the idea that the way in which we as librarians treat teens will dictate their involvement in and behavior at the library. Consider this: if I sit at the reference desk and look unamused when teens enter, shush them for chatting loudly, and sigh audibly when they leave behind stacks of books, will they want to use the space again when I'm working? I doubt it. However, if I great them warmly, ask if they need assistance, and truly engage in their task(s) at hand, I'm assuming the end result will differ greatly. The only way I can help teens build strengths and reduce weaknesses is if I am invested in their cause(s).
The third bullet point directly relates to the paragraph above. If we use our adult brains and continue to live in our adult bubbles while planning teen spaces, collections, and activities, we will not be truly representing teens and their needs. Even if teens desire unrealistic things within a library (say a hot tub, for example), hearing them express their opinions will not hurt the planning process. And who knows - for every absurd request, perhaps there is an equally logical one we had not considered.
I view youth services in general and teen spaces in particular as ponds that exhibit the ripple effect. If my library wants to shove teens in a corner and keep them quiet, the teens will hear the message loud and clear. I wouldn't be surprised if they disrupted the library intentionally to spite the approach (and I couldn't completely blame them). On the other hand, if a library encourages a teen collaborative space, works to incorporate their wants and needs, and reaches out to teens through programs, I think the atmosphere would be the polar opposite.
Bottom line: We were all teenagers once, too. Let's try to put ourselves back into our converse sneakers and remember what it's like when adults occasionally act like you bring the plague.