Teens walk into the library with friends and attitude.’  They ignore the rules, they want to do things their own way, and they want adults to leave them alone.’  Library staff respond with hostility, superiority, and a demand to follow rules that are not necessarily enforced for other age groups.’  How to change that?’  Educate your staff about the psychology of adolescence, help them see that the behavior they are objecting to is perfectly normal for adolescents.’  In addition, educate your staff about applying rules equally across age ranges.’  If teens have to work quietly, then so do the man with the cell phone who yells at the person he’s talking to, the senior citizens who forgot their hearing aids, and the mother with the screaming, hysterical infant or toddler.’  It’s important to remember that those who expect trouble will get it.’  But those who expect no trouble will not have to deal with any.’ ‘  The same act can be defined as trouble by one person, and no problem by another.

Taking a look at the milestones of adolescence will help staff members understand that teens are exhibiting normal behavior when they do things that might seem troublesome.’  From 11-13, teens are increasingly worried about what they look like, begin to assert their independence from their parents, display rebellious and defiant behavior, value their friends over their family, so that the peer group dominates their opinion on all issues.’  Teens at these ages might look or act different, want to do things with their friends—including using the library computers.’  They are quick to take offense, and give adults major attitude.’  However they will respond to adults who treat them with respect.’  Even a smile will go a long way toward connecting with a younger teen or tween.’  So will asking for their cooperation rather than ordering them to change their behavior.

From 14-16, teens become less self absorbed, begin to make decisions on their own, experiment with self image and appearance, take risks and seeks new experiences without seeing the danger they are putting themselves in, develop a sense of morality or ethics, begin to make lasting relationships, become sexually aware, become intellectually aware, and their skills/interests become more mature.’  At this age, teens’ brains have not yet been hardwired, and many old connections are being pruned out and new connections are being formed or strengthened.’  They have not begun to enter Piaget’s formal operational stage, and don’t have the ability to think about experiences from a hypothetical perspective, to say “What if?”’  They deal with the immediate, rather than the future.’  Teens are also social animals, and move in groups.’  Librarians tend to think that a group of teens is “getting into trouble” when all they are doing is working on a joint project together, or trying to figure out how to do their homework, or maybe just socializing.’  Why don’t they ask the librarian for help?’  She’s glaring at them, and making it very clear that she’d rather they just leave, and the sooner the better.

From 17-18, teens view the world idealistically, become involved in the world outside of their home/school/community, set and work to achieve goals, stabalize long term relationships, see adults as equals, and establish independence from home and family.’  These older teens resent being treated like children, and want to establish their identity as adults.’  They see themselves as more mature than the adults around them do, and this can cause conflict.’  Again respect is the key—treat them with respect, and they will respond.’  The more you can treat them as adults, the more they will interact positively with you.

There are many articles and books examining the adolescent brain and personality, that explain why they act the way they do, and what they want from the adults in their lives.’  A training session on adolescent psychology could include information from these titles, and a display promoting them would be of interest not only for the staff, but for customers as well.

It is difficult to like someone you don’t understand or are afraid of.’  Today’s library staffs need the information and education that can bring insight, understanding, and even empathy.’  Growing up today is a far cry from what it was like when the parents of today’s teens were teens themselves.’  Teens today have far more to deal with than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.’  They don’t want to be coddled or protected, because they want to confront the problems in their daily lives, and find ways to solve them.’  And if you are ready to treat them as almost-adults, and give them the respect they demand, they will give you respect in return.

Joni Richards Bodart
Assistant Professor
School of Library and Information Science
San Jose State University

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