Teen Rolling Eyes at ParentsAs teen library staff, we are called to not only assist teens with their educational pursuits, but help them build the necessary skills to become productive adults. As we create services and programs for teens, we sometimes forget that teens aren’t the only one who benefit from these services—their parents do as well.  Although parental involvement may vary from community to community, if we see teens who visit the library with their parent(s) and families, we have a great opportunity to find out what parents would like to know about teen library services and how we can improve our programs to suit the needs of their teens.

For those of us who work, or have worked with, children see the power of parental involvement on a day to day basis. Whether it’s taking their kids to sports, tutoring, or bringing their children to the library for storytime, these parents take the time to expose their children to learning opportunities to ensure their kids are on the right track. By taking an active role in their child’s success, libraries have always been there to support parents with parenting collections, early literacy programs, create home school collections, and provide educational family programs to give parents the information they need to support their children.

This month, the Learning Heroes published a report  that explores “parents’ kitchen table anxieties, their aspirations for their children, their role in their children’s academic and developmental success, and their needs to help their children succeed.” In this study, a majority of the parents surveyed consider education a top priority and that the education their child is receiving is very good or excellent. However, based on national data, children are not performing as well as their parents believe and some tend to place their child’s happiness over academics because their doing well in school:

 [P]arents give far more importance to the emotional well-being of their children over their academic achievement. This emphasis on happiness over academics is not surprising. More than three out of four parents say their child is getting a good education and two-thirds believe their child is above average academically. Indeed, for the second year in a row, nine in 10 parents believe their child is at or above grade level in reading and math. All in all, that is a sobering misperception considering that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows fewer than two in five students nationally are keeping up with 4th and 8th grade-level goals.

What’s interesting about this study is that it points out several parental misconceptions about academic achievement. This study serves to decipher what parents believe to be true and what data is depicting. Furthermore, this study provides a lot of perspective about how parents, from various ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic backgrounds, assess academic success (i.e. report cards are a better depiction of academic achievement over standardized testing) and how they, themselves, feel about education vs. their child’s well being.  Although this study was not created to admonish parents, it was created to help parents to better understand academic achievement and how they can help their child excel. Given this knowledge, I am happy to say that libraries have been assisting children and families in the community for a while now thanks to diverse collections, specialized services, and programming. However, as children become teenagers, not have the needs of these users changed, we also face a new set of obstacles which is getting teens into the library to use our services and, ultimately, meeting their parents to tell them what we have to offer their teen.

According to YALSA’s Organizational Plan teen library staff is asked to “take on roles and responsibilities that were not part of their job description in the past. Furthermore, they will need to adopt an evolving orientation that shifts some focus away from traditional aspects of the job like collection development to allow for greater innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking.” As teen library staff,  we are not only charged to connect teens and the library, but we are also responsible for guiding and encourage teens in the absence of their parents. in other words, we are the official unofficial mentor in these teens lives. When it comes to the educational needs of children and teens, as the Parents 2017 report mentioned, parents surveyed said that their child’s education is just as important as their emotional well-being. For teens, not only is school getting harder for teens, it’s getting tougher for parents who may not be experts in Trigonometry and  AP Biology. By telling parents that we have a cast selection of books and programs programs that will help their teen with school, we can also tell them we resources that can help them cope with adolescence and prepare them for adulthood. By informing parents that libraries are another resource that is dedicated to helping teens thrives, not only will teens benefit form our services, bur provide parents with a resource they can rely on.  Whether it’s hosting SAT/ACT workshops, art workshops, homework help, game nights, and/or volunteer opportunities, teens have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow, which is what every parent wants and appreciates. So if a teen comes in to the library with their families (parents and siblings) take the time to introduce ourselves and chat with them!

Since it’s part of our job to build rapport with teens, it’s nothing new to us. However, for parents, they may not realize how dedicated we are to making sure teens have access to the services and resources they may need so let them know! By building these relationships with teens and parents, we can not only make a difference in the lives of teens, but parents will tell us how much they appreciate us taking the time to help their teen. For most parents, there will be times where they will worry about their teens. By connecting with parents, and building a solid relationship with teens, we can ease some of that worry as parents know their teens have someone they can trust and rely on when they need it. If we don’t see parents with their teens when they come to the library, we can go back into the community and get more involved.  Whether it’s boosting our outreaches and/or participating in events that parents will attend (i.e., Back to School Night, PTA Meetings, etc.), we want to let parents know that we are here to help. Whether it’s finding a good book, a quiet place to study, or to learn important life skills, we can provide parents with support and assurance that their teen is going to be okay. There’s a saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” and, in the case of teens, it literally takes parents, teachers, mentors, and, yes, YA library staff to empower and help teens succeed.

About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."

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