Thursday, November 3, 2016

Make Your Library A Haven for Teens

I recently had the privilege of speaking to Forsyth County library employees on making the library a “safe place” for teens. We run a teen author workshop that is consistently well-attended and filled with the most wonderful teens on the planet.

(Yep, I am biased. But I’m also right.)

While the teens have led the way to creating a library experience like none other, I’ve been making notes and studying what works and why. I will be posting here what I’ve learned, and hope you take every last bit to use at your own library.

Here’s the first lesson I learned:
They need us to listen. So…don’t try to make a perfect list of talking points, or a lecture, or even a plan. You won’t know what they need until the meeting is already underway.

Scary, but usually true.

Teens need to be heard. I call it Vitamin H. Vitamin H is the most life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-affirming vitamin known to humanity.

In fact, teens may not be able to tell the difference between the feeling of being loved and the feeling of being listened to. Being loved = being listened to. Being listened to= being loved.

(for more fascinating insights like that one, check out this interview: Ellin Galinsky, Inside the Teenage Brain, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/galinsky.html)

Second, be patient.

I understand that it’s awkward when a group first begins meeting together. I’ve led groups for twenty years, and I can tell you that the first six months may be wonderful and meaningful…but the gold comes later.

When a teen reads her work to the group, and you know you have heard her heart, a hush falls over the room. It’s a sacred moment. And sacred moments become much more common after the first few months. So jump in and let the group grow.

(And bring snacks.)

And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself to have a master plan for creating the perfect evening. I always scout a few YouTube pieces to show the teens, in case we want to branch out and talk about the mechanics of writing. I look for interviews with their favorite artists and writers, and we have had some great discussions around those.

Most of the evening, however, is devoted to listening. I listen to them, they listen to each other.

I have a list of insights I’ve gleaned from running these groups which I will be posting here in the coming weeks. Why am I passionate about this topic?

Aristotle said, “To educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

As a nation, we’re neglecting the heart. And fixing that oversight begins with the simplest of steps.

Teens need a safe space where they can be heard. Your library is that space. It’s not as daunting as you might think, and you don’t need to be a writer or a speaker to do it.

You just need to listen.
Because what you hear will change your life.
More on that next time!

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