Summertime, of course, means that with no school and after-school activities, more teens can come to the library. A problem occurs, though, because when teens are together, they engage in normal teen behavior, which isn’t always good library behavior. The question is, how do you enforce the rules without alienating your teens, and if you have to make them leave for a day, month, or whatever the time period, is it possible to reach those teens and bring them back – just more well-behaved?
My library’s conduct policy applies to all patrons and clearly defines the consequences for different behaviors, when a warning is sufficient or when warnings have to turn into an order for trespass, either temporary or not. Having a clear policy is a good first step, but I don’t think any of us really believe that teens or any other patron are actually going to read it, even if you have your rules of conduct displayed in a very prominent place. In fact, most teens probably won’t know that what they are doing is wrong until you give them that first warning.
Here’s where you can create allies. Do you have teens who regularly come to programs and never cause any trouble? Ask them to look out for their peers when they are in the library so that bad behavior stops before it really gets started. Then think about why you have such a good relationship with those teens. If you constantly have to give a warning to certain teens, try to get to know them, and let them get to know you. If you build mutual respect between you and your teens, they may be less likely to disappoint. The benefit to this is you can get an inside view of what programs will be successful, and you might be able to keep them occupied and entertained and keep them out of trouble. Even if you do have to give out a warning or even have to call parents or issue a trespass, be sure to make a distinction between the teen and their behavior. Make it clear that you want to keep seeing them in the library, but they have to follow the same rules as everyone else.
How do you handle teens who can’t seem to stay out of trouble? What methods have been successful for you in stopping problems before they start?