Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Is There Power in the Message? Putting positive images of teens in the press

Teens often get a bad rap.  Especially in libraries.  Especially with non-teen services staff.  Right now in your head you are thinking of the one or two members on your staff who hate when the clock strikes 3:30 and the teens comes bustling in through the front doors.  Some of them carry skateboards.  Some of them are giggling, talking loud.  Almost all of them are travelling in some type of pack.  And those certain staff members – they are waiting to pounce.  You see them coiled and ready to launch their attack the first moment that opens.

Then you open the newspaper and see about the fights, the drugs, the robberies, the teenage pregnancies.  I’m not going to lie, all of that is a concern . . . BUT

Last night I watched 5 teenage girls who had given up years of their lives to train earn an amazing victory.  Swimmer Missy Franklin, 17 years old, turned down endorsement deals so she could stay at home and swim with her high school team.  Michael Phelps began his world record accumulation of Olympic medals as a teenager.
There are teenagers who have started organizations to help the sick, poor and needy.  There are teenagers that go on mission trips.  There are teenagers doing amazing things every day to help make this world a better place.  So maybe sometimes we could focus on them.
As someone who works with teens, I have watched the Olympics and thought time and time again – these are the stories we should be talking about.  What if our headlines focused on local heroes every day instead of local crimes?  Maybe then teens would strive for positive attention instead of negative attention.  One of the things I keep reading in the coverage of the Aurora shootings is a call from readers not to use the alleged shooters name or picture, not to give him fame for what he has done.  To, in fact, make him he who shall not be named and take away his power.
I can’t pretend to understand the psychology of criminal behavior.  But I watch a lot (and I mean A LOT) of Criminal Minds and it seems that the goal, the pathology, of some criminal behavior is to get attention, fame.  And as parents we often hear about children who engage in negative attention seeking behaviors because as they often say “any attention is better than no attention”. 
So let’s take away the negative attention! And honestly, I think this is a good 40 Developmental Assets approach.  Decide as a teen services librarian that you are going to focus on the positive and give your teens positive goals to reach.
Here are some ways that I think you can do this:
Create a place in your teen area where you can display teen created artwork, poetry, and more. See Putting the “Teen” in Your Teen Space.
Create a local community bulletin board in your teen area and post newspaper clippings of your teens positive accomplishments.
Work with local businesses to provide rewards for A/B students.  Maybe have lock-ins and pizza parties.  Or, your library could forgive fines for students that show their report card during a certain time period.  (Unblocked cards leads to an increase in circulation).
Create opportunities for teen created programming. See Teens Got Talent
Share with your teens via your social media those stories you encounter in the press about teens doing well, such as Olympics news coverage or those stories about teens that start businesses to help their local communities.  See The Big Help, Friends for Change, Mobilize, VolunTEEN Nation and more.
When we help our staff, our communities and our teens focus on the positive, we send a powerful message about teens.  We give them new goals to strive for.  We empower them and give them a voice. 

What other ideas do you have for spreading the positive message of teens?  And what resources or campaigns do you know of that are encourage teens to be actively engaged in positive ways in their communities? I’m always looking for new resources to share.

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