This summer, I took a risk. I told myself if I didn’t achieve that particular goal, I was going to switch goals and train for a triathlon. I’ve been swimming, biking, and running each week ever since. The more I train, the more I find the parallels in working with teens at the library.

Learning a new skill
On my way to swim practice one morning, I arrived at an intersection the same time a teen in a Student Driver car did. The driving appeared a bit awkward, as any beginning driver might. Learning the proper technique in swimming is a skill that I’m learning and I’m sure I look very awkward in doing. The point being, teens are constantly learning new skills as they maneuver into adulthood. Obviously no matter what age you are, hopefully you’re always learning something. But throw something big in front of yourself to learn-doesn’t even have to be physical-and more compassion might be your response when you encounter a teen who is trying to get better at something.

You make a difference
Every practice, the group I’m training with cheers each other on. No matter how slow or how fast. Frequent whoops and claps and greetings of ‘good job!’ are consistently shared with one another. When you feel like you can’t give any more, go any faster, or would prefer the ground to swallow you whole right here and now-but you hear someone yelling your name and cheering you on, it can make all the difference. Never underestimate the influence you have in a young person’s life. While you may not hear their gratitude, know that your kind words or actions do matter.

Breaking it down
My swim coach tells me learning how to swim isn’t like receiving a message from outer space. In other words, it’s not rocket science. Even though as a beginner, I’m thinking of a million things like kicking from the hip, breathing when my arm is in a certain place, not lifting my head, and sometimes it’s like WHAT?! am I supposed to be doing?!?! If we want teens to act a certain way and change their behavior somehow, it helps to break down what that means and give them a few things to focus on at a time. Try to notice when they make a change, no matter how small, and let them know about it. It can encourage them to continue to move forward.

Setting the bar high
My brain doesn’t seem to have caught up with my body yet. If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the summer that I could have biked, ran, or swam as much as I’m doing now, I wouldn’t necessarily have believed you. There is a lot of literature out that states how teens’ brains are still developing which is why they make some of the decisions that they do. However, challenging them to meet you where you know they can be, will likely cause them to rise to the challenge of doing so. Expect a lot but also help give them the tools to help them achieve the goal.

I’m sure there are a lot of other parallels I will discover as I continue my training and complete the race but that’s what I came up with for now. Being passionate about something is bound to relate to the passion we all share in working with teens. Maybe tri’s aren’t your thing. Feel free to share what is and if its influenced working with teens at your library.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

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