Helping teens become adults

One of the hardest parts of my job is the fact that sometimes I have to step into a more authoritative role with teens.  When I first started my career as a teen librarian, I was laid back to a fault.  Anything goes in the teen library because, well, they’re teens and we should just let them be that way!  I quickly found out that way didn’t work out that well.  The attitude of the community towards teens didn’t change much.  They were still pesky, smelly, loud, and disrespectful.  Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

Over time, I’ve learned to hang onto my laid back approach yet at the same time, in the words of my father, grow some balls.  Keeping myself in the teen library environment day in and day out was the key to getting to the point where I am now.  You have to go through major ups and downs, but in the end you achieve balance.  I’m not shushing teens left and right and throwing them out for being 15 year old hormonal messes (I say this in the nicest way possible), but at the same time, I’m not dealing with a lot of unacceptable….crap.

Yesterday, our teen library was beyond busy.  We saw 147 teens throughout the whole day with most of them coming into the library between the 2:00-4:30pm range.  It was loud, hormonal, smelly, and all that stuff, but it was just a busy day and everything was normal.  It got difficult when one teen jokingly punched another teen in the arm and exclaimed “you’re a fucking faggot”.  Now, yes, I can see that the two are clearly not brawling but, something’s still wrong.  That’s a very, very, very hateful phrase to use.  I immediately kicked the teen out of the library for the day without thinking.

I spent the next few hours wondering if that was a knee jerk reaction or if I did the right thing.  I’ve always wanted to achieve a balance with what I do in the teen library, but had I upset that balance?  I came to the conclusion that my decision to kick the teen out was fair.

On occasion, we’ve gotta be the “bad person” when something happens that requires the teen being asked to leave…..AND IT IS OK.

Our job as teen librarians is not only to provide them with really great materials, services, and more, but to also help them grow up.  We’ve all been there.  Being sixteen and full of emotion and confusion is not a fun thing.  I like to think that when we ask a teen to leave for something like this, we’re giving them something to think about.  Should I have used that language?  What does it really mean to call someone a fucking faggot?

This is the most important part of our job: We’re helping teens become adults


  1. I think you did the right thing, too. The question I have is has he come back since? I can’t and won’t critique HOW you did it because I wasn’t there and you didn’t say, but “excommunicating” in any context has to be done carefully to really be effective and not merely retributive & remedial.

    Just a question and about 3¢ of opinion.

    • Thanks Hassan. It’s always great to see you in the library everyday. You rock.

      PS: You have something on hold for you at the library. I think you should know what it is…we do talk about it everyday!

  2. Justin, you’re absolutely right. It’s our job not only to support and validate our teen patrons, but also to set boundaries and help them learn about the adult world. I went through a similar thing with my teen anime club. I wanted to be totally laid back, let the teens be teens, but there comes a point when the chaos started making some teen patrons uncomfortable. I needed to (and have) set boundaries so that everyone could feel comfortable at our program.

    I think you did the right thing!

  3. Hi Justin,

    I just wanted to say that I also find this “helping teens become adults” thing difficult…. I think that consistency and patience is the key. In an educational setting (I’m a middle school librarian) I (my students?) reap the benefits of having their captive attention. So in addition to having clear expectations for their behavior, as it is clear you do, I also am afforded the opportunity to discuss those expectations and facilitate reflection. Whereas in a public library, the “F.F”. teen can run from you without having to sit for a conversation, I have the ability to force a kid into a conversation about their behavior.

    I would be interested to know how you navigate the difficulties of setting expectations when you don’t have the easy outs I have, like the principals office, detention, parent phone calls etcetera….

    Thank you for sharing. I spend a significant amount of time thinking about this very issue, and I appreciate your willingness to publicly reflect on your professional life.

    Thanks again,

  4. Absolutely the right thing–you’re fostering a safe space, not one where hurtful language is allowed. Hopefully the teen will understand the need to a) moderate language and b) understand that words are hurtful. Would be lovely if you could give him an assignment to dig through the history of the word and it’s usage, but as you’re not a teacher….

  5. I want to thank you all for reading and commenting. Sorry about my delay in following up, as I stepped away from the internet over the weekend to enjoy some time with my extended family.

    I really love the idea of an assignment…it could be something we do to allow the teen back into the library (if they were asked to leave for a longer period of time)

    I think what I’m getting from all of the wonderful feedback is this….language like this is REALLY not OK, and we’re on the front lines. Part of our “job” is to make the future better. Making sure this kind of language is wiped out is part of our job.

    I’m rambling, so I’ll stop, but thank you all for reading and commenting.

    Keep doing all the great stuff you do for your community.

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