By Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Youth Services Library Consultant
State Library of Ohio
I’m sharing notes from the sessions I attended at the 2012 Public Library Association Conference in Philadelphia last month, in hopes that this information will be useful to the youth services community and others.
This illuminating session on teens, behavior, and communication was presented by Robin Chalhoub, training coordinator, and Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, youth services, both of Salt Lake County Library System. Not only librarians, but parents, relatives, teachers, group leaders, and other adults who work or live with teens would find this information interesting, possibly life-changing.
The presenters talked about cultural influences and biological/developmental aspects of teen behavior. Most non-industrial cultures don’t even have a term for adolescence. The audience was challenged to respond to the question: when do we become an adult? There is not a specific event in our culture that defines the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. This is stressful for adolescents who are treated sometimes like a child and sometimes like an adult. From a biological standpoint, the prefrontal cortex (responsible for judgment and impulse control) is not fully mature until an individual is over 20 years old.
Teens do not spend much time interacting with adults. Librarians have a great opportunity to display adult behaviors they can learn from. For a library/librarian to accommodate teens, some service goals include a welcoming environment, understanding of each other’s expectations, empathy for one another, safety, and the creation of long-term patrons.
The presenters introduced Verbal Judo, a book by George Thompson, frequently used by police departments to teach a tactical communication style that redirects behavior using words. The intention is to generate voluntary compliance, and empathy is essential. One application is to paraphrase. When a teen is on a tirade, use a word of insertion (e.g. “Wait” or “Stop”), then an empathetic sentence (“Let me see if I understand” spoken in a soft tone), then listen to their story and paraphrase it back to them. Even if they don’t get what they want, you still took the time to listen.
The speakers described a sequence of events in verbal judo technique with the acronym LEAPS: Listen, Empathize, Ask, Paraphrase, Summarize.
The speakers discussed “gender speak”, or the ways that male and female teens typically differ in communication style and preferences. Teen boys like the facts, while girls like a dialogue, and want to discuss matters in more detail. Concerning non-verbal behavior, it’s generally less threatening for a boy if you talk with him while you are side by side. Boys are uncomfortable with the intimacy of face-to-face, but girls prefer communicating face-to-face.
The attendees viewed a portion of a funny but cautionary video from King County Library System (“Patrons Gone Wild” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px9m-0wAREc) that demonstrates many of the undesired behaviors teens may engage in at the library, and also demonstrates, through the librarian character, a lot of typical female body language and speech styles that are not helpful in confrontational situations.
The speakers wrapped up with some specific advice for librarians:
- Encourage teens to take ownership in the library, such as through volunteering or creating spaces (e.g. garden, artwork on display). They are less likely to destroy what they have created.
- When calling teens on their behavior, do it one-to-one, not in front of their peers
- Validate the behavior that you like and tell them why you thought it was beneficial – e.g. “you’re showing yourself to be trustworthy”, “that was very adult of you”, etc.
A succinct and helpful brochure-style handout from this session is available at http://placonference.org/programs in MS Publisher format.