Handling Rowdy Teens: Stop Trouble Before it Starts

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?

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4 Comments

  1. Rosanna McGinnis

    Is the teen space in your library in the middle of or connected to the other spaces? This topic is one very good reason for having teen spaces be somehow separate from other library spaces. Here in San Antonio, I see much more teen library use in the branches where the teen space is in the back of the library or tucked in a nook or corner of the building over the branches where the teen space is smack in the middle of the library not secluded in any way.

  2. We’d often get big crowds in the teen area with pent up energy and nothing to do. Our space is tucked away and not regularly staffed, so the teens often got ‘rowdy’ while unsupervised. We’d wind up asking several groups to leave throughout the day. They didn’t attend our regular teen programs and they didn’t want to sit quietly and read, but they needed somewhere to go. I began bringing activities out to a table in the middle of the crowd, taping instructions to the table, and letting the teens discover the activity on their own, with me supervising from the sidelines. The activities were always fairly easy–Samurai sword pushpins, duct tape wallets, etc. I’d teach a handful of teens how to do it, and then they’d teach their friends. Once the teens realized I was ‘the craft lady’ and not ‘the lady who yells at us to be quiet’ they opened up, and now we do more complicated activities together. They also associate me with the space, and expect me as a regular presence, which helps the behavior as well.

  3. As a new high school librarian, I found this article and the responses to be most helpful. Thanks so much for the tips!

  4. Look, sometimes teens, just like anyone, are in a bad mood and nothing works. Respect yourself and them enough to be honest with them, and explain that things aren’t working well for them at the library on that day. No judgement, just the fact of it. Ask them to leave, and tell them they can come back the next day. They may not leave. Then you ask again, calmly, and get help if needed.

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