Teens and Tough Love

I had to kick out my first teen last week (well, my first in this particular job). And not just for the day. From the Teen Space, pretty much forever. He’s allowed in the rest of the library and he can come in and check out books quickly and then leave, but he can’t hang out in the space during Teen hours and he can’t check out any of our equipment.

Because he stole something from us.

He actually stole something from a different YOUmedia site, but after two days of emails between myself and the other YOUmedia staff we concluded that since we are a network, consequences should be enforced network wide. And we don’t want kids to think that they can steal something from one site and then just start going to another with no consequences. It’s a privilege to have the tech we do and it needs to be treated accordingly. We need them to get that, and the vast majority of them do with no problems. But this one thought he could take advantage of us, and that just doesn’t fly.

I know it’s the right thing to do. But still, it was hard to sit down and tell him this.

Because he is, in general, a pretty good kid. He clearly has some issues going on at home. He’s super needy, and not good at interacting with other teens. And part of me wanted to give him a second chance. I want the teens to always know I have their back. But in this case, having his back meant making sure he understands that actions come with consequences.

And what made it harder was sitting him down and confronting him, watching him continue to try to lie to me. He didn’t get volatile, or violent or anything. But he kept lying to my face, even though I had proof of the truth. I can enforce rules and consequences, but I can’t make him learn that owning up to our mistakes is the best thing we can do. Some people never learn that… too many. I hope he isn’t one of them.

I work in an area where crime is almost a given, a way of life. These kids face violence, dodge gang recruiters, deal with home situations that I can barely imagine. And they’re teens, so they think they’re invincible.

Sometimes it’s my job to give second chances. To be understanding. To be forgiving. But sometimes its my job to say “this is the line, and when you cross it there are consequences you can’t talk your way out of.” Hopefully he won’t steal things anymore. Hopefully he’ll learn his lesson. Hopefully this behavior won’t escalate.

Hopefully.

The hardest part about my job, the hardest part about working with teens, is letting them make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons. Better here, now, with me than somewhere and when with life altering repercussions. The hardest part is knowing why they do what they do and not being able to pour what I’ve learned into their heads. They have to learn it themselves.

My favorite Dumbledore quote is from The Order of the Pheonix, “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

It’s because I understand, because I remember that I chose tp work with teens.

But that doesn’t always make it easy.

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