One topic that I wish was taught in grad school was how to handle disruptive teens. I didn't encounter many situations at my previous library, but when it did happen, I sometimes was at a loss for how to handle it correctly. If your library is within walking distance of a school, you might find more instances of disruption.
These disruptions could vary from a loud group at the computers to a teen overtaking a program. To find answers to these questions, we had invited Pete Smith, Whole Children Lead Teacher/School Librarian, to our YA Collaborative Group meeting. He had discussed six common dilemmas and provided great suggestions on how to de-escalate any situation.
He was amazing! Below are some of his strategies, shared with his permission:
Group Too Rowdy?
- Pull out a chair and sit down.
- Talk slowly and calmly. They will find it unnerving and stop what they are doing.
- Once they disengage, you can talk to them about their behavior and how it affects the space and people around them.
- Don’t focus on who did what – you can’t change what did happen, so let’s focus on this point forward.
Teen Breaking the Rules?
- Have them sit and seriously think about it. Have them come up with reasons for why they shouldn’t be doing it. Many of them may need the time to really think things through to understand the importance of the rules.
Teens are Ignoring You?
- Be honest! Tell them how you feel. Connect to them as a fellow human being. “Listen, the way you are treating me makes me feel frustrated. When you focus on your phone, it is telling me that you are not paying attention to what I am saying. These rules were created for you because…”
Issues Between Two Teens?
- Talk to their parents first. (Get their parents contact info and the best times to call. Parents tend to get defensive for their kids, so contacting them first about what you are noticing and what you want to discuss to their kids about may save you a lot of work. Ask the parents for tips or advice on how to best connect with their kid.)
- Then talk with the teens.
Suspect It Is a Special Needs Issue?
- Talk to them one-on-one.
- Tell them what behavior you’ve been noticing and ask how you can help. They’ll most likely know what you are talking about and can tell you what they need help with.
- Focus on the behavior, not on a label! Identify person first, the disability they are diagnosed with second.
- Never make assumptions. They will know how to best help them.
- “Here is what I’m noticing…. Is that true? Do you need help with…?”
- “Is there a system you and I can setup so I can alert you that you’re doing this without alerting the group?”
- Using their name and a gesture, like pointing to your face
- Using a code word like banana and working it into a sentence.
- If that doesn’t work, ask them for their parents’ contact info. Make sure to also find out what is the best way to reach them and the best times to call.
Suggestions to Avoid Future Behavioral Problems
- Every meeting, review the rules.
- Keep track of time, give them a heads up on transitions (it reduces stress for some teens). “In 10 minutes, we’re going…”
- Create a cool down kit (fidget toys)
- Stress balls
- Notebooks with markers/pens
- Noise cancelling headphones
- Include on your flyer, “Need accommodations – RSVP to….”
- Give them an opportunity to step out to cool down, take a walk, and come back later.
- Find ways to connect them to their motivation.
- Sometimes, the library is not the place where teens need to be. If they are unable to follow the rules, you can send them home for the day and invite them back the next day.
- Fair means everyone gets what they NEED, not that everyone gets the SAME thing.
How to De-Escalate Any Situation
- Use a gentle, soft voice.
- Speak slowly and confidently.
- Allow the person to tell you what is bothering them.
- Praise any movement in the right direction.
- Stay calm and paraphrase your understanding of the person's experiences. Set aside your own thoughts and responses and focus on what you are hearing,
- Validate the person's possible emotions and what is upsetting to them.
- Be specific and gentle, but firmly directive about the behavior that you will accept.
- Explain your intent before making any moves ("I'm going to cross the room and open the door.").
- Take deep breaths, slowing down your breathing so that you can remain calm.
- Ask the person what would be helpful from you. Ask for permission to problem-solve the issue. The person may just be venting and may not want you to problem-solve with them.
- Summarize what the person has said, and summarize any agreed upon resolutions.
- Do not argue. When a person is already agitated or angry, he/she may escalate if they do not feel heard. It is more helpful to show that you heard them and to de-escalate than to be correct.
- Do not describe the person creating the disturbance, or assign them emotions ("You're frustrated because...").
- Do not touch the person or make sudden moves.
- Do not threaten the person. Threatening could increase someone's fear, which could prompt defense or aggression.
- Do not take the person's behavior or remarks personally. Disruptive or aggressive behavior generally results from other life problems.
Thank you, Pete Smith, for allowing me to share your great info! And thanks to Amanda Maclure for her awesome notes taken during this meeting.