I can’t lie – teenagers are a little intimidating.
I don’t avoid them or whisper “youths” under my breath while I quickly vacate the area they occupy but oftentimes I just struggle to relate. Even when I was a teen myself I didn’t know how to talk to people my age because I always felt like nobody would ever understand the challenges I was dealing with.
Full disclosure, I didn’t have an easy time back then. If I had to guess, many of us have had to deal with situations that we were not prepared for and didn’t have the tools or resources to navigate. Throughout my twenties, I spent a lot of time doing self-reflection and trying to figure out how to move past my personal trauma…and it was so hard. It was hard because I had to do it alone and I was trying to unpack things that had happened when I was a teenager; maybe if I’d had someone to turn to for help while it was happening things would have turned out differently.
Now, as an adult, I look back and feel sympathy for the young person who was dealing with all the things that teenagers deal with – balancing social lives, academic goals, familial obligations, extracurricular activities, first jobs, learning to drive, hormones, exploring the world as an independent person for the first time, and so much more… all the while also dealing with heavy things that she wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared for. All that girl needed was someone she could trust that she could go to for advice or even just to have them listen while she vented.
Someone much like a librarian at the local library.
Kids and teens with mentor-like relationships outside of the home are less likely to experience behavior problems, bullying, and the internalization of troubling issues. They’re also more likely to stay calm in the face of new challenges and express interest in learning new things – things that will set them up for success when they move on to college after high school or enter the workforce and become a more evolved version of themselves.
For a lot of people in this age range, the options for mentor-like relationships are limited to faith-leaders or counselors at school. Unfortunately, though, many teens deal with issues that they don’t feel comfortable talking about with people in these roles and subsequently feel like they have to navigate these challenges alone (much like I did).
A librarian can understand the stress and rigors of academic life and provide resources to help manage them. They can be an objective third-party for a teen to turn to for advice on the latest conflict in their friend group or how to ask a crush out for prom.
They can be a quiet observer who notices that one particular kid is coming in every day around the same time and hanging around an area with books on a sensitive topic that they might feel too embarrassed to ask questions about.
They can be none of those things and simply offer programming that gives teens a place to hang out with their peers and have fun. Or programming that provides an outlet for difficult emotions like anxiety and stress (and what teen doesn’t need more healthy coping mechanisms?).
Maybe it’s as simple as offering a program that provides a quiet hour for teens to do their homework but also introduces brain breaks and basic stretches in regular intervals. If you have green space outdoors or a large program room, you can host a game of Red Rover or Musical Chairs and remind them of the joy of being physically active without the stress of getting a scholarship out of it if you perform well.
Active programming isn’t something that readily exists, but it is something that we’re helping libraries implement into their space with Hiveclass. Simply incorporating aspects of sports into crafts is an easy way to encourage teens to learn about the benefits sports have to offer: leadership, teamwork, confidence… all things we need to succeed in life. You may know that we offer a children’s programming guide as a free resource. Well now, we also have a dedicated version for teens and young adult patrons. This age group is so unique, and we kept that in mind as we produced the activities featured throughout our new programming guide. Check it out here – you can download it for free today!
You never really know what someone is going through in their life and how you can make an impact – whether it’s actively via programming or passively by simply being a consistent and reliable figure in someone’s life. Teens are often an overlooked and ignored demographic simply because most adults often don’t know how to relate. The amazing thing about that, though, is that Young Adult librarians spend their days trying to figure out how to do exactly that, so most of the hard work is already done and you’re halfway there.
Now you just need to cross the finish line.
(Don’t groan at the sports metaphor, I’m contractually obligated.)