Why My Teens Only Policy for Teen Programming, a discussion of the age of consent
Years ago, a little card game called Yu-Gi-Oh became popular and it was causing us huge problems at the library. Administrators had meetings and proposed policies: No more than 4 teens to a table. No moving furniture. No playing games.
I proposed an alternative solution: Let’s open up the meeting room after school and let them play, making the library an inviting place. So we did. And Teen Coffeehouse was born.
So every Tuesday for almost 10 years I had anywhere between 50 to 70 teens come after school. Some kids played Yu-Gi-Oh. Some played Magic. Some played video games. Some did their homework. And some just sat around and talked and ate cookies.
I saw relationships begin and end. And I made a strict rule: Only teens could come. I had two very important reasons for this:
1) I believe that teens deserve teen only events. Places where their parents can’t make them bring younger siblings to take care of. Places where they are free to learn to navigate social interactions in a safer environment that recognizes the unique challenges to the adolescent period of development.
2) After seeing all of those relationships start to form, I realized also that my former teens, now technically adults, didn’t understand that they shouldn’t be flirting with the 14 and 15 year olds in the room. Or responding to the flirtations of the 14 and 15-year olds in the room. So when they aged out, I told them that I valued them, appreciated them, but it was a teen only event and since they were no longer a teen, they could not come. (Our policy was also set up in such a way so that as an adult, if they wanted to, they could book the room for their own gaming events.)
I mentioned this because today, Liz B raises some important points over at her blog on SLJ. You can read it here: http://blogs.slj.com/teacozy/2014/03/17/power-and-policies-and-ages/. The important part is this:
“Confession: I think teen programs should be teen only. And when I’ve said this, I get varying reactions. I get the nods of “of course” agreements.
But I also get a different reaction. I get the “but this 21 year old really loves x, and the adult programming department doesn’t do it, and I can’t believe you’re discriminating against these kids who would love this program.” (That is a fairly accurate quote, of me being told I’m prejudiced for not having that college kid in a program with giggling eighth graders.) (Also, I love when a 21 year old is called a “kid” yet a 14 year old is called a “young woman.” What does that tell you about society?)
And when I say I don’t think it’s right to have a place where a 14 year old and 21 year old will be together — I get the look. The look that says there is something wrong with ME for thinking that, or thinking that it is any way a problem.”
The truth is, I wouldn’t want my 14-year old daughter to go to a party where there were going to be 21-year-olds. I understand the inherent risk here. So why would it somehow become okay at the library? Anyone who has seen these dynamics at work understand the lure of the older man’s (or woman’s) attention, the power that they have, and the way that younger teens don’t understand these dynamics. So I agree with Liz. It’s our job to set up programs that benefit not only the library, but the teens that we are serving. These policies help protect the teens, help protect the adults, and they help protect the library. They remove the temptation and allow teens to be free to be teens and to learn to navigate social interactions in a safer environment with people who are truly their peers, not their elders.
And to put this all in perspective, remember this: “Because I was a child, I was missing large pieces of the perspective required to understand adult situations. Children can be sexual. Children can pursue. Girl children in particular may have already learned how to manipulate and bargain with their sexuality at a very young age. They are still children. Like all children, they test boundaries, boundaries that adults must set and maintain.” from The Myth of the Teenage Temptress, or why a teenage girl can not consent to sex with an adult male (source: http://www.xojane.com/issues/stacey-rambold-cherice-morales)
P.S. – I love how Liz points out that we talk about 21-year-old men as “kids” but 14-year-old girls as “young women”. There is a lot to unpack in that.
For more information:
For more on the age of consent, see Carrie Mesrobian’s post on issues of consent in the YouTube community: This is Very Upsetting
See also, Why Talking about the Age of Consent Matters
Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
THIS is a great video talking about Consent: http://svyalitchat.tumblr.com/post/79778098923/teenlibrariantoolbox-maureenjohnsonbooks#notes
And this is a great infographic explaining consent: http://svyalitchat.tumblr.com/post/79296398309/this-is-what-consent-looks-like-consent
And this is a great Consent Awareness Campaign: http://svyalitchat.tumblr.com/post/79778026879/consent-education-at-ut
The books POINTE by Brandy Colber and THE GOSPEL OF WINTER by Brendan Kiely both talk about the age of consent issue and the abuse of power by adults. And the book USES FOR BOYS shows very vivid contrasting examples of various forms of consensual and nonconsenual (rape) sex.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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