As YALSA Blog readers know, I’m pretty interested in technology and the way that technology can enhance, expand, and improve teen education and interactions. While I am very proactive in helping to integrate technology into teen services, in teen lives, and in libraries, I am also a strong supporter of youth participation and having meaningful conversations with teens about their lives, technology, library services, and so on. As a matter of fact, one of the assignments I include in a library school class I teach is called Talk To Teens. Students can only complete (and succeed in) the assignment if they talk with teens about books, technology, libraries, and more. Sometimes students talk with teens face-to-face. Sometimes students talk using technology. And sometimes it’s a mixture of a variety of methods in which the conversations take place.
I’m starting this blog post with that overview because I want to point out that being technology oriented and being a fan (and maybe even a fangirl) of technology, and promoting technology in libraries, doesn’t preclude the interest, ability, and strong belief in the power and necessity of talking with teens on a regular basis. As with most things in the library world, this is not an either/or proposition. It’s not that we use technology with teens and as a result give up all face-to-face conversations with them. It’s not that we have face-to-face conversations with teens and therefore give up using technology to connect. And, it’s certainly not that if teens are regular users of technology that that automatically means they don’t have opportunities to talk with adults in meaningful ways.
We live in a world where good conversation can happen even if technology is a key piece of the lives of the teens that we serve.
Yet, when I read the article in the newest issue of American Libraries titled Talk to Teens – They’re Still Listening, it didn’t come across that we can live in a world, and work in a world, and promote a world in which teens get to have face-to-face conversations with adults and virtual conversations with adults. It didn’t come across that teens could use technology a lot in their lives and still interact with adults in meaningful ways. The article blamed technology for teens and adults not having good conversations. That’s just not reasonable.
One thing that really stood out to me in the American Libraries article was the mention of a recent New York Times article titled Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. That New York Times piece caused quite a stir amongst educators, researchers, and others and there were several follow-up articles that put into question much of what was stated in The New York Times. Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital and Growing Up Digital, wrote one of the most cogent responses to the Times piece, he states, “…blaming the Internet is like blaming the library for illiteracy.”
Tapscott and many others get it. It’s not the fault of technology that teens aren’t having conversations with adults on a regular basis. It is not the fault of technology that librarians may not be finding meaningful ways to connect with teens in order to have useful conversations. Librarians do need to have conversations with teens about a variety of topics. Librarians also need to support teens in their use of and understanding of technology and how to integrate that technology use into daily life. Blaming technology for being the cause of limited conversation with teens isn’t getting us anywhere. It’s a red herring that gives adults the opportunity to blame some thing, when really they aren’t doing what they need to do.
We have to talk with teens every day. Don’t think that if we talk to teens then we also have to forego supporting and integrating teen technology use in libraries. Talking to teens and supporting technology are not mutually exclusive.
Don’t think that if you talk to teens that that has to be accomplished only face-to-face. I’ve had amazing, productive and extremely meaningful conversations with teens on Twitter, via email, via IM, using Skype, and in chat rooms. I’ve even started a meaningful conversation with teens in one setting – face-to-face or online – and continued it in the other setting.
Adults who are truly engaged in teen lives can have great conversations with teens in a variety of environments and through a variety of means. Have the conversations whenever and however you can. Just make sure to talk.