This blog post has been a long time coming.
I actually came up with the title of this post several months ago, as I was trying to find the words to express the highs and lows of working with this particular age group. The highs are few and far between, but when they DO happen they are so sweet that I cling to those memories with a ferocity that is both poignant and (to be honest) a little bit mental. The lows can be so frustrating that they leave me questioning my career as a whole, or at the very least wondering what’s the point of having a summer reading club kickoff if not a single participant shows the slightest interest in actually READING.
More on that in a moment.
One of the best things and one of the worst things about teenagers is that they will often speak to you without filters. This has led to statements as uplifting as “You rock!” and “That was so cool! Where did you learn to talk about books like that?” It has also led to statements as painful as “I’m not saying you’re fat or nothing, but … are you pregnant?” and “Oh my God! You’re older than my mom!”
Some of my favorite interactions with teens since I’ve been working as a young adult librarian have been when they’ve asked me for my opinion on a subject that touches their lives. Sometimes these conversations happen in settings that I expect, like when I’m having a Teen Advisory Group meeting composed of some of my best and most thoughtful kids who are all gathered around a table for the purpose of talking and listening to each other.
But sometimes these conversations happen in unexpected places, like in the middle of a gaming program in which I’m multitasking between making sure the players are playing fairly (read: not cheating, yelling, or hitting each other), making sure that the other kids in the room are behaving (read: not making out, yelling, or hitting each other), and listening to a podcast through one of my earbuds while I check my email on my iPod Touch.
It was in this setting about a month ago that one of the girls who regularly attends the games program suddenly called across the room to me, “Miss, why would a boy who’s a high school senior keep dating much younger girls?” I’d been watching her conferring with a girlfriend for the last five minutes, so I gathered that this was an extension of that conversation and that they’d been talking about one of their classmates. I took out the earbud, closed my email, and gave the girls my honest opinion. Well, I kind of had to yell my honest opinion, since we were across the room from each other and there were several boys playing a video game between us. But the point is, after several months of attending my program, she’d come to the conclusion that even though I was an authority figure who spent way too much time in “bossy” mode, that I appeared to have a brain in my head and/or a sense of humor, and that it might be worth asking my opinion on one of life’s great mysteries.
NOTE: Actually, it’s really not all that mysterious. It’s a similar principle to the “big fish in a small pond” theory that I apply to teenagers who keep trying to hang out in the children’s room after they’re clearly too old to be there. It’s a lot easier to impress someone younger, and it’s a lot easier to fool someone younger. At least, this is the conclusion I reached when I dated a classmate my freshman year of college, I broke up with him because he was a frigging mental patient, and he then proceeded to date a string of high school girls. Because apparently, it took them longer to discover that he was an immature, unstable, and emotional screwup.
Not that I’m still bitter, or anything.
Anyway, I gave the girls a condensed version of the conclusions I’d drawn from my own tragic dating history, and they seemed suitably impressed. I’m sure they continued to discuss this boy and maybe they’re STILL discussing him, and I hope that my words helped them to see this boy from a different perspective. After all, age and experience have to be worth SOMETHING, right?
Teenagers at the library are more likely to smile, and laugh, and say over-the-top things like “This book changed my life!” They’re also more likely to show up at the library wearing fairy wings (“just because”), or offer me a fist bump, or come at me like they’re going to hug me …
Well, that’s when I get to make a split-second decision. If it’s a girl who I’ve developed a bond of trust with, then it’s okay. If it’s a boy who presumably wants to test my boundaries / wants to distract me from noticing his friends who are hitting each other / wants to cop a feel / wants to show off to his friends / etc. then the answer is a definitive NO. Or, as I expressed it to the last boy who tried it, “Nice try, Bright Eyes. It ain’t gonna happen.”
So there are the positive interactions with teens that fill my heart. The times they laugh at my jokes, or tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation to their class, or talk to me about the books they love, or ask me questions about real-life issues (mostly about boys, but sometimes about other things, too) and then they LISTEN to my answers.
And then there are the negative interactions. By which I mean …
God help me …
it’s now time for me to share the story of MY MOST DISASTROUS SUMMER READING CLUB KICKOFF PARTY EVER.
So I’d spent a lot of time getting the room ready. Rearranging the furniture, setting out free books, preparing handouts, putting out refreshments, setting up a laptop for online registration, and preparing a raffle. Then the program started, and the first boy showed up. Which, frankly, was weird, since it’s usually girls who come to my book-themed programs. Then another boy showed up, and another boy, and another boy, and another boy, and another boy …
This was a momentous occasion, Dear Readers. I have NEVER, in almost 20 years of public librarianship, had a reading program attended by all boys before.
And on a related note, the next time I complain that I don’t have enough boys come to my reading programs … please remind me of this day.
Anyway, every time I tried to start the program, some new distraction happened. One of them took too many cookies, and the other boys started yelling at him. Then one of them kept leaving the room to see what his friends were doing on the computers outside. Then another one left to use the bathroom. Then another one left to see where the other boys went. Then two of them wouldn’t stop giggling. Then one of them took out his foam dart gun and started shooting the other boys with it.
Most of them had the attention spans of hummingbirds (or is it goldfish? Which species remembers less?) I started talking about the badges they could earn on the summer reading website, and one of the boys said, “Badges? Where???” and started pawing through everything on the table as though I’d hidden them beneath the bookmarks. When I referred to myself as the young adult librarian, one of the boys (the one with the shortest attention span, who was of course the one with the foam dart gun) interrupted me and yelled incredulously, “Wait … you’re YOUNG???”
So, yeah. THAT was a highlight.
So I was getting to the end of my rope when one of the boys who’d been running in and out of the room came in and told one of the other boys that they had to leave, so then they asked if we could do the raffle early. I walked up to the raffle box to discover that one of the boys had had enough mental faculties to write his name down on a piece of paper, but had apparently spaced out on the “then put the paper in the box” instruction. I also decided to double-check a sneaking suspicion that was nibbling at the back of my brain and confirmed that yes, one of the boys (the one with the shortest attention span) (the one with the foam dart gun) (the one who thought it would be ironically HILARIOUS to refer to me as “young”) had put his name into the raffle box multiple times. What a gem!
So we had the raffle, and the winner walked off with his prize (a Plants vs. Zombies hat that my boyfriend’s daughter had picked up at a convention and donated to my program). And I tell you, Dear Readers, not ten seconds had passed after the raffle was done before one of the boys (I’ll let you guess which one) yelled, “CAN WE GO NOW?”
I looked at the clock, I looked at the boys, and I said, “Yes, I think that’s a good idea.”
As they left, I called out after them, “Next time, we’re going to talk about books you’ve read lately!” But I’m pretty sure that my words fell on deaf and disinterested ears.
I have high hopes that this week’s program will go better … by which I mean that more girls will come, and that those boys will find something more constructive to do.