Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Bullies, best friends and phones: Will Covid shift the balance toward real-world socializing? a guest post by Sheila M. Averbuch

Friend Me

“Just be careful,” my husband called out as our teen-aged kids left for the first day back to school. Although mask-wearing was going to be enforced, we still sent them off with trepidation. “Stay away from other people, even your friends, especially if they’re laughing,” he added.

Wow. What a thing to say. I knew where my husband was coming from — how can we keep our kids safe when there’s still an airborne, incurable virus hopping from person to person? — but hearing the words made me realize just how much we’re asking young people to forego this year, their friends’ laughter included.

Here in Scotland we locked down in March: from then on, our kids had almost no contact with friends. At first they enjoyed the break from the grind of school, but then my daughter, especially, began to talk about and long for the chance to see friends in person.

This was new: typically she’d default to her phone for socializing, but a real, face-to-face meet-up was what she wanted most. Video calls were set up as a regular stopgap, but I could see how excited she was for those beach strolls and dog walks: outdoor,  socially-distanced meet-ups where she could hang out with friends in person. Other parents reported the same hunger among their teens to get back into a group and feel normal again.

Face to face, not phone-only

Covid has overturned so many norms, and I think the way tweens and teens use their phones may be one of those. So much has been written about how technology isolates young people and has created that digital default: socializing through their handsets can feel so much more natural than phoning a friend or meeting in person.

Roisin, the main character in my middle grade thriller debut FRIEND ME (Scholastic Press), repeatedly pushes away her brother and other real-world potential friends for her new online bestie. A spark for the story was the day my then 13-year-old said it was his best friend’s birthday; I urged him to phone the boy for a chat and he acted like it was a bizarre suggestion.

This got me thinking: it would be completely feasible for an entire friendship to blossom and grow via the phone, but without speaking to each other. I wanted to explore how and whether this could be a lifeline and a hazard. Can you really know friends you’ve only met through a screen? But if you find your tribe online, should you auto-mistrust them, just in case they’re bad actors?

In FRIEND ME, Roisin is an Irish transplant to Massachusetts who’s picked to pieces by a bully; the girl targets Roisin in school and online. The fact that both Roisin’s best friend and her enemy come to her through the same screen highlights a core problem with cyberbullying: phones are the most personal of personal electronics.

It’s hard to tell young people who are experiencing cyberbullying to stay away from their phones, when the phone has become an umbilical cord to the rest of life, from parental text messages to homework alerts from online classrooms.

It’s even harder for adults to impose rules, boundaries and time-of-day tech curfews unless we model that behavior. The issue here isn’t just the hypocrisy of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ it’s that we’re putting these most addictive objects into kids’ hands — untested technology, that’s being tested on young people. There’s a reason that many Silicon Valley executives, who created today’s ultra-addictive tech, banned their own children from using the tech: they realized themselves just how hard it was to stop.

The Social Dilemma and the siren call of social media

If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix, you’ll have discovered chilling new insights into the most addictive apps of all: social media, whose algorithms keep users hooked by dishing out dopamine hits of praise on an unpredictable basis. 

The documentary interlaces with a dramatization of social media at work on a ’typical’ American family, including a painfully realistic example of a tween girl who finds the compulsion to post selfies overwhelming. Seeing those likes and comments rack up is an ego boost, but one insult wipes out the positive. The character Isla, played masterfully by Sophia Hammons, can’t stop looking in the mirror and hating herself after one of her followers says her ears make her look like an elephant.

Safeguards for social

There are no easy answers in relation to tweens, mental health, and social media, but cyberbullying in particular is something every teen and carer can take action on right away, following excellent guidance like that from stopbullying.gov. There are best-practice tips on what young people should and shouldn’t post, or repost, and the importance of speaking up immediately about any bullying behavior.

There’s also solid advice on healthy use of apps: including, if you’re a young person, the importance of allowing parents or carers to follow you on social media, to keep them in the loop.

Disabling notifications is always good: it means you’re not yanked back into the app on its schedule, but when you choose. In the case of bullying, screenshot everything; principals and teachers will be grateful for the trail of evidence if they need to get involved.

The fact that our young people are isolated by Covid and in many places learning from home doesn’t protect them from the long arm of the bully. But 2020 has also, by necessity, caused many parents and carers to become more accustomed to technology, which better equips them to use and monitor the apps where bullies prowl.

Technology can be isolating, but it can also be a savior, linking young people to friends, learning and community. I’m also encouraged by the growing availability online of fantastic mental health and mindfulness resources, and the increasing societal awareness that mental health is just health and must be nurtured and protected. 

As long as adults model the self-control and tech-curfews with our own devices that we want our kids to exercise, I think we need to trust young people, and open our eyes to just how much they’re valuing real-world interaction with real-world friends right now.

The trend I’ve seen in my own kids, favoring face-to-face instead of online-only socializing, gives me hope. My daughter recently spent hours one Sunday with her friend group just roaming the parks and fields around us: hanging out, taking pics…and laughing.

ANTI-BULLYING IN MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

It’s a golden age for middle-grade fiction which tackles bullying and its fallout and demonstrates how young people can cope, thrive and prevail. Here are recommended reads to get you started:

Friend Me by Sheila M. Averbuch (Scholastic)

The Brave by James Bird (Feiwel & Friends)

Looking Glass Girl by Cathy Cassidy (Puffin Books)

Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe (Nosy Crow)

American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar (Aladdin)

Restart by Gordon Korman (Scholastic)

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado (Nancy Paulsen Books)

Meet the author

Photo credit: Rob McDougall

Sheila M. Averbuch is a former technology journalist and author of the middle-grade thriller FRIEND ME publishing November 10, 2020 with Scholastic Press. Find Sheila at sheilamaverbuch.com

Sheila’s local independent bookshop near Edinburgh in Scotland is the marvellous Portobello Bookshop, which has signed copies of FRIEND ME while supplies last at bit.ly/SMAbuyindie  Or, find FRIEND ME at your own local indie here bit.ly/SMAorder

About Friend Me

Friend Me

What happens when an online friend becomes a real-life nightmare?

Roisin hasn’t made a single friend since moving from Ireland to Massachusetts. In fact, she is falling apart under constant abuse from a school bully, Zara. Zara torments Roisin in person and on social media. She makes Roisin the laughingstock of the whole school.

Roisin feels utterly alone… until she bonds with Haley online. Finally there’s someone who gets her. Haley is smart, strong, and shares anti-mean-girl memes that make Roisin laugh. Together, they are able to imagine what life could look like without Zara. Haley quickly becomes Roisin’s lifeline.

Then Zara has a painful accident, police investigate, and Roisin panics. Could her chats with Haley look incriminating?

Roisin wants Haley to delete her copies of their messages, but when she tries to meet Haley in person, she can’t find her anywhere. What’s going on? Her best friend would never have lied to her, right? Or is Haley not who she says she is…

With twists, turns, and lightning-fast pacing, this is a middle-grade thriller about bullying, revenge, and tech that young readers won’t be able to put down.

ISBN-13: 9781338618082
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 11/10/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: Make and Take Crafts for a Pandemic State of Mind

Today for Cindy Crushes Programming we’re talking about Make and Take Kits. Though a lot of libraries initially swerved to Virtual Programming, with things like curbside pick up now happening, many libraries are starting to think about and put together Make and Take Kits. These are kits where all the supplies are provided for a program activity that patrons can drive through and pick up via curbside. Librarian Cindy Shutts shares some specific Make and Take Kit activities and I talk about some things you’ll want to consider when putting your Make and Take Kits together.

Since many libraries are not having  in person programs for a while including mine. I have been looking at possible make and take crafts. This is a hard one to do because you have to make sure you provide all the supplies that patrons need to complete the craft. Often teen patrons might not have supplies you would assume they have in their homes such as glue and scissors. I tried to think of easy and fun crafts that could be done quickly.One way to find out what supplies teens have by having them sign up ahead of time so you can find out which supplies they need such as markers or crayons. I suggest making a Youtube video or linking to one already made for teens who are visual learners. Do not forget to put the instructions in the bag.

The Classic Pet Rock

Supplies needed:

  • A rock
  • Googly eyes or buttons or beads for the eyes
  • Glue. I am putting glue dots in the kits to make it easier for the teens.
  • Markers

Instructions:

  1. Glue the eyes on the rock
  2. Use marker to add decorations

Nail Polish Splatter Art Tile

Supplies:

  • Tile
  • Nail polish

Instructions:

  1. Make sure your tile is nice and flat.
  2. Drip different colors of nail polish on the tile to create different patterns
  3. Let nail polish dry

DIY Hair Bows

This is based on this previously blogged about craft and you can find instructions at the post.

Some Things to Consider When Creating Make and Take Craft Kits

Do not assume that your patrons will have any of the supplies they need at home, including things like scissors and glue. Provide every supply necessary in the kit itself so that no one takes home a kit and can’t complete it because they don’t have the tools they need at home. Somewhere shared online that they were sending glue dots home in case their kids didn’t have glue. Another person I talked to said they were even sending crayons. In order to make accessible craft kits, you’ll want to include every supply needed.

Consider having patrons pre-sign up for kits so that you have enough on hand. First come, first served can be very frustrating when you go to great lengths to go out during a pandemic and then you go away empty handed. You could use something as simple as a Google form to help facilitate sign ups for kits to make sure that everyone that comes to pick up a kit leaves with a kit.

Whenever possible, consider making detailed step by step instructions – including pictures – or make a video tutorial and share the information where that tutorial can be found in with your kits, especially if they are more difficult crafts.

Though many libraries have circulating maker kits, because of the nature of the pandemic you’ll want to consider kits in which no items are returned for health and safety reasons. It’s true that you could probably clean and disinfect things like safety scissors, but you’ll also probably lose a fair number if you send them out in kits with the expectation that they will be returned. Plus, is cleaning and sanitizing safety scissors the best use of our time in this particular scenario when you consider how deadly the virus can be for some?

Create a hashtag for your library system, your kits, or specific projects and invite your patrons to share their completed projects with you when they are done so you can get some built in social media and PR. It’s voluntary, of course, but if you’re making kits you might as well invite your patrons to share their completed projects with you.

You’ll want to look for crafts that are easy, creative, inexpensive and require as few supplies as possible, but are still fun and have a visual punch. Kits can be put into something simple like a ziploc or paper bag. Be sure to include some type of branding on your craft kits.

Make and Take Craft Kit Resources

Pinterest Board of Make and Take Craft Kits: https://www.pinterest.com/PosiePea/library-make-take/

It’s Okay to Be Sad and Anxious Right Now. It’s Even More Okay to Talk About It, a guest post by I.W. Gregorio

If there exists the tiniest glimmer of a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been that people have become more open about talking about mental health. 

Portrait of the author as a young girl. Photo courtesy of Ilene Wong.

When I was growing up in an immigrant family in conservative central New York, I can’t ever recall candid discussions of mental illness. Instead, there were whispers and hushed discussions about my second cousin who’d committed suicide, and dramatic—and judgmental—speculation about the family member who was “having depression, ai-yo.” 

I came of age in the 1980s, before widespread acceptance of the concept of self-care, and the stigma around mental illness was such that I only had limited language to even identify my emotions. When I was acting depressed, the language that my family used to describe my mood—words like “sullen” and “moody”—was almost uniformly pejorative, as if I were flawed.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I even made the connection between my sometimes dark and spiraling thoughts and the physical manifestations of depression—poor concentration, excessive sleeping, changes in appetite, and an almost paralyzing heaviness that made it impossible to get out of bed in the morning. 

Looking back, I wish I had known two things: First, that anxiety and depression are medical conditions in the truest sense of the term. They aren’t just “in your head”—you can’t always “snap out of it” by thinking positive thoughts or praying or putting on a happy face. And just as no one would shame someone with cancer for having a malignancy, there should not be a stigma attached to anxiety and depression. 

Second, I wish that I had known that I was not alone; how common mental illness is and how easy it is for people to hide it even from those that love and know them best. It took me decades of therapy to get to the point where I could be open about my struggles with mental illness. Even when I did, I did it somewhat indirectly, by publishing This Is My Brain in Love, an #OwnVoices YA romance about two children of immigrants navigating anxiety and depression. 

When I started publicizing my novel, and my own experiences with mental illness, I steeled myself for judgmental silence from my family, friends, and co-workers. I tried to manage my expectations, telling myself that it didn’t matter if they thought less of me. What was important was that I share my story so my readers felt less alone. 

How shocking, then, to realize that it was me who would find up feeling so much less alone.

Within hours of my posting my first essay, I heard from multiple family members from multiple generations telling me of their own experiences with anxiety and depression. I got posts from colleagues from my job and from old classmates. I feel like I’m a fairly observant and empathetic person, but I hadn’t had an inkling that most of these people had battled the same demons I fight with every day. 

I realized then that even though the shame surrounding depression and anxiety has gotten better, people are still reluctant to talk about it. 

Part of the reason might be that a lot of people—including myself—feel that their problems aren’t important or severe enough to warrant attention. There have been times in my life where, because I’m not actively suicidal, I’ve felt reluctant to pursue help and told myself that things ‘’aren’t that bad.” The fact that the current media dialogue around depression and anxiety is often sensationalized, focusing disproportionately on death by suicide, doesn’t help. 

I would argue that, while the stigma surrounding mental illness has been reduced, it hasn’t yet been normalized. It’s time for us to see more representation of the spectrum of mental illness—including the earlier stages, when people are asking, “When should I seek help?” Spoiler alert: If you’re thinking about it, it’s probably time. It’s never too early to reach out to a professional.  

In the coronavirus era, anxiety is the new normal. Depression is something we must all be vigilant about spotting in our loved ones—now, more than ever. Social isolation is like a drought of the spirit, one that sets the groundwork for the scorched-earth spread of depression

Now, more than ever, I believe it’s vital to have books about anxiety and depression that give readers the language to talk about emotions, treatment, and coping mechanisms. I like to call This Is My Brain In Love a (mostly) happy book about mental illness because I believe—in fact, because I know—that it is possible to find a path forward when you live with anxiety and depression.

There’s no denying that it’s hard these days. Here are some tips from both my personal experience and from trusted sources like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Psychology Today:

  1. Limit your news consumption if possible and focus on outlets that provide rigorous journalistic facts and solutions, rather than opinion and speculation. I recommend the World Health Organization website, and The New York Times Upshot, which provides graphs to see which countries and states are flattening the curve—as well as insight on why sometimes the data can be unreliable. 
  2. Give yourself a routine each day. #QuarantineLife can still have a schedule—and blocking out time to read the headlines can help you manage item #1.
  3. When you’re feeling anxious, breathing techniques can be incredibly helpful, whether it’s active diaphragmatic breathing, or the 4-7-8 method (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale over 8 seconds). The University of Washington also has simple exercises that can help your muscles relax. 
  4. Mindfulness training can be incredibly helpful as stress builds up. Shine is a good source for free meditations and other resources as is a GoZen.  
  5. Get sleep. To fight insomnia, minimize screen time before bed, try to exercise 30 minutes a day, and limit caffeine if possible. 
  6. With physical distancing, most therapists and insurance companies have increased access to teletherapy. You can find a therapist at Psychology Today or by calling the NAMI hotline at 800-950-6264. If you’re in crisis, just text NAMI to 741741. 

The bottom line is, it’s okay to be sad and anxious. Chances are that the many, if not all, of the people who love you are feeling the same way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

And most importantly, remember: You are not alone.

Meet I.W. Gregorio

Photo credit: Rayleen Tritt,
Meraki Photos, Inc.

I.W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. Her novels include Lambda Literary Award finalist None of the Above, and This Is My Brain in Love, which has received three starred reviews so far. She is proud to be a board member of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. Find her online at www.iwgregorio.com and on Twitter/Instagram at @iwgregorio.  

I.W. Gregorio’s local indie bookstore is Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA.

About This Is My Brain in Love

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

ISBN-13: 9780316423823
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years