RevolTeens: What do teens need in times like these? By Teen Librarian Christine Lively
The great concern and anxiety among parents of teens and some educators is, yes COVID, but even more than that – learning loss and teens “falling behind.”
I don’t know who parents think their kids are falling behind. Every one of us is navigating unforeseen circumstances that change constantly.
I just told an educator friend, “I cannot imagine how we could explain what it’s like to be working in schools right to people who are not in schools every day. I feel like I am stuck in a house of mirrors or some other bizarro world. I cannot find my footing because the floor keeps moving.” She added, “AND the floor is made of lava.”
As a high school librarian, I see how that struggle and uncertainty is affecting students.
Students are overwhelmed with the stress of two years of struggle. Their families are living in fear of serious illness, death, lack of child care, lack of health care, loss of income – especially families that rely on hourly or gig work to pay their bills. Their parents, teachers, coaches – all of the adults around them are stressed out. Teens are in the middle of winter, at the end of the first semester, finishing projects and missing work in a scramble to pull up their grades. They are mostly homebound because of COVID and because it’s cold outside. They constantly hear about how their teachers are letting them “fall behind” some imaginary, arbitrary, progress indicator.
All of this stress has to find a way out. We have no system or plan to help these teens navigate these times. Teachers and librarians are seeing kids and teens act out loudly, angrily, and in some cases violently as they just don’t feel they can take the stress anymore.
RevolTeens need some changes and choices.
One thing that students and my teen coaching clients tell me is that they just want to have some real choices for themselves. I know I am not alone as a parent, teacher, or other concerned adult who has thought that if this kid would just do what I know they need to do, they’d have such a bright future. We want to make choices for them. We know what classes they should take, what school they should attend, what extracurriculars they should have on their applications, etc. We want to “design” their schooling so that they can make big bold choices after high school and enjoy the rewards of their (our) hard work. While we may convince ourselves that we do all of this “for them,” teens are often miserable in the meantime. High school is hard in every way. It’s an artificially intense time with people you cannot avoid for better or for worse, and as a student, you get almost no choice in – anything.
How can we give them choices? I am happy to report that thanks to BookTok – the section of TikTok where people rave and ravage books with reviews and recommendations – more teens are reading! They are reading books that they are excited about. There don’t seem to be enough copies of It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover to meet demand! We have had multiple groups of friends come into our library to check out the same book to read together and talk about. These are books that are purely for enjoyment, not for any academic goal. It has been fantastic to chat with so many more students about what they’re reading and what they want to read. The choice to read a book purely for pleasure is one that gives them a break from their own lives as they delve into a fictional world for a much needed escape.
Another choice that we can give teens is how they choose to relax, spend time, and just get through their day. In our library, we’ve found more students than ever just wanting to come to the library to be in a different space than their classrooms, and they choose different ways to unwind or occupy themselves while they are in the library. Chess games happen all over the library. Before I came to Wakefield High School, I had no idea how heated and full of smack talk a chess game could be! We also have students who love to assemble puzzles, legos are popular, as is coloring. One of the biggest surprises of this year has been the popularity of our manual and electric typewriters. Students approach them as if approaching a creature from Jurassic Park and then are flummoxed by how the keys get stuck and by how hard they have to press down on the keys. Most of the messages typed are just typing practice, but some messages seem to be ideas or feelings that the student needed to say somewhere.
We are always looking for more ideas to help students say what they want and get what they need. During the time they spend chatting about books, crowing about winning a chess game, or typing out a goofy message with the word ‘butt’ in it multiple times, they can forget how the world around them is shifting and scary, for a while. Given the choice, they will find some way to have fun in between the work, fear, and chaos. They can leave the adults to worry needlessly about “falling behind,” “learning loss,” and other dystopian fantasies while they color a page or fit another puzzle piece into place.
That’s what I love about RevolTeens. They find a way.
About Christine Lively
Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.
Filed under: RevolTeens
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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