Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen by Rebecca Denham

Teenhood is a confusing time for teens and the adults in their lives.  Adolescents who never before questioned authority are suddenly abusing sarcasm, questioning every authority figure in sight and dependent on their friends rather than parental figures for emotional support.  There are biological changes impacting teens physiologically and social development factors that influence the chaotic cocktail of teen emotions.  Let’s face it, teenhood is hard. So today as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series we’re going to be discussing basic teen development.

They Travel in Packs

It can be overwhelming for a group of teens to descend on a library, but this herd-like behavior is perfectly natural from a developmental standpoint.  Teens, especially younger adolescents, use social groups to define themselves, their values and their behavior.  This desire to be part of a group may seem at odds with the inherent adolescent desire for independence, but it is actually quite reasonable when viewed from the teen perspective.  Teens use their relationships to explore the world outside their family unit and to identify both similarities and differences between themselves and their parents.  The teenage years are when adolescents try on a variety of roles in the exploration of identity.

Children learn a great deal by role play, also known as pretending or imaginary play.  Extrapolate the importance of pretending to adolescence.  Adolescence is all about becoming an individual which means that a teen needs to be something more than just their parents’ child; more than who they have been so far.  However, teens also know that they are not quite ready for adulthood and therefore use their social groups to explore different roles they may take as adults.  It is through relationships with their peers that teens test and ultimately finalize their morals and values.

While the desire to be part of a group is critical for young teens, many older teens replace their social group of early adolescence with more intimate friendships or romantic relationships.  I’ve noticed that, in general, the older the teen is the more likely they are to travel in pairs than packs.  However, some studies have shown that teens from minority groups face greater pressure to rely on peer groups throughout adolescence for a sense of belonging.  One of the great balancing acts of library services for teens is to make sure that both groups of teens and individual teens are welcome in the library.  Successful library services for teens serve individuals as well as social groups by offering a variety of programs, services and materials.  YALSA, YART, and many blogs run by youth services librarians have literally hundreds of ideas, guidelines and tools for serving teens in libraries.

Teens, Romance and Drama

Adolescent romance is often viewed with benign indulgence or dismissal by the adults in a teenager’s life but these relationships hold an amazing amount of influence over teenagers’ mental and emotional health as well as their adolescent development.  Romantic relationships, positive or negative, account for some of the strongest emotions teens experience during the adolescent years.  Romantic relationships of the teenage years also lay the foundation for adult romantic relationships.  The nature of romantic relationships in adolescents is heavily influenced by culture, gender, and the individual but, generally speaking, romantic relationships for younger adolescents are characterized by higher stress and lower emotional support than those of older teens.  Similar to the prior attachment to peer group, as older teens transition to adulthood the individual’s primary attachment figure shifts from parent to romantic partner.

Romance in the teenage years serves another purpose beyond the rush of hormones, these relationships allow teens to expand and practice communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and intimacy skills that are necessary for a well-adjusted adulthood.  However, adolescent romance, as with any relationship, can have a dark side.  According to a 2007 study, 61% of teens involved in romantic relationships reported being made to feel bad or embarrassed about themselves.  A recent survey by the CDC found that 10% of high school students reported physical victimization at the hands of their romantic partner.  One study found that 29% of the young women surveyed who had ever been in a relationship said they had been pressured to have sex or to engage in sexual activity they did not want.  A 2013 study found that LGBTQ teens experience significantly high rates of all types of dating violence compared with heterosexual youth.  Some of the statistics about adolescent romance are disturbing which is why it is important that we have conversations with our teens about healthy and unhealthy relationships.  These conversations must be done in a supportive, non-judgemental way if you want your library teens to stick around.  You should also have resources available for teens so that they don’t have to talk directly to you if they don’t want to – often the questions that teens most need to ask are the ones they are embarrassed to air.

Self-Esteem is Kind of a Group Effort

Peer groups are one of the most powerful influencing factors when it comes to a teenager’s self-esteem.  The peers who are so crucial to adolescent social development and development of personal identity are also integral in influencing a teen’s self worth.  As a librarian, you cannot control how teens treat each other outside of the library but you can influence their behavior by treating every teen with compassion and respect and setting a standard of behavior for any teens in the library or attending library programs.  Make your library a No Bullying Zone, form a GSA, get to know the teens in your library and let them know that you care about their well being.

Being a teenager is complicated and difficult but if you try to see their perspective and make them feel welcome you will truly begin to understand the near-alchemical mysteries of the developing teen.

Next week, as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, Heather Booth talks with us about the teenage brain.


[1] Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals by the American Psychological Association – http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/develop.aspx

[2]A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley

[3]Challenges in studying minority youth. Spencer, Margaret Beale; Dornbusch, Sanford M. Feldman, S. Shirley (Ed); Elliott, Glen R. (Ed), (1990). At the threshold: The developing adolescent. , (pp. 123-146). Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press, x, 642 pp.

[4] http://www.ala.org/yalsa/

[5] http://www.txla.org/groups/yart

[6] Teen Librarian Toolbox, Lunanshee’s Lunacy, YA Books and More, The Green Bean Teen Queen – there are TONS of online resources for Youth Services Librarians

[7] Larson RW, et al. (1999). The emotions of romantic relationships: Do they wreak havoc on adolescents? In: Furman W, Brown BB, Feiring C, editors. The development of romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p. 19-49.

[8] http://www.headspace.org.au/media/326676/romanticrelationships_adolescent_romantic_relationships_why_are_they_important_headspace_evsum.pdf

[9] Furman W, Wehner EA. (1997). Adolescent romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. In: Shulman S, Collins A, editors. Romantic relationships in adolescence: New directions for child development. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; p. 21-36.

[10] http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/rf/rf_romantic_0707.pdf

[11] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

[12] Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-1999 (2001). American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center.

[13] Dank M, Lachman P, Zweig JM, Yahner J. Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2013. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10964-013-9975-8.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Rebecca Denham is a Young Adult Librarian at heart who masquerades as an Assistant Branch Manager by day at a very busy library somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of Texas.  When not distracted by management duties Rebecca is reading, reviewing YA literature and coming up with fun, innovative programming with diverse teen appeal. When not writing and reviewing for her blog Rebecca volunteers her time for the following committees: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA), 2015-2016, Best Fiction for Young Adults (YALSA), 2013-2014, 2014-2015,Youth Engagement (YALSA), 2013-2014,Spirit of Texas Reading Program HS (YART), 2011-2015, Teen Book Con Planning Committee, 2011 to present, Book Reviewer for VOYA, December 2011 to present,A4YA Reviewer for SLJ, Febraury 2014 to present. You can follow her on Twitter.

Resources for Adults Working with Teens:






Resources for Teens







Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

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