A Teen Librarian’s Tips for Talking to Young People Over the Holidays

A Teen Librarian’s Tips for Talking to Young People Over the Holidays

‘Tis the season for family gatherings where the teens and young adults
among us are inevitably hit with a familiar onslaught of prying
questions. Innocuous at best and insensitive at worst, small talk like
this usually comes from well-meaning relatives unsure of where else to
go in conversations with young people. But the truth is this rote line
of questioning often leads to a dead end. Teens rattle off their prepared answers, grown-ups give an empathetic sigh, and that’s pretty much it.

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If that scenario rings true to you or adults you know, I have good
news: It doesn’t have to be this way! With one simple trick, you can
have infinitely more interesting interactions with the Gen Z and
younger millennials in your life. Ready for it? Pretend you are a teen
librarian!

Seriously. Ok, I’m not suggesting a crash course on YA
fiction and adolescent development, although that would be amazing and
probably very useful. What I’m offering is modeling your approach
after professionals with a vested interest in connecting with teens.
Does that sound complicated and scary? It doesn’t have to be. Here are
three teen librarian-approved strategies for your next family
function:

  1. Take interest in their interests. For teen librarians, asking what
    young people are reading, watching, and listening to comes as second
    nature. It’s market research! Also, we’re genuinely curious about
    their likes and dislikes. We may not always agree with their opinions
    or even have name recognition for every band/show/YouTuber they
    mention, but finding out more about their pop culture diets can be
    fascinating. You may even discover more crossover with your own tastes
    than you expect. After all, teen culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
    Broader trends like true crime, high fantasy, and social activism are having a moment in the YA world as well and your nearest teen may very well have a recommendation of what’s worth checking out. Added bonus: you can tell them what you think the next time you see them
  2. Treat teens like people. Part of the role of the teen librarian is to
    remind other library staff that teens deserve respect. Even when
    they’re loud, even when they’re awkward, and even when they seem to be
    laughing at you and not with you. We believe that their thoughts have
    value and encourage them to make their voices heard. You can do the
    same at these get-togethers by including them in conversations and
    listening to what they have to say. You don’t need to adjust your
    vocabulary, try to be particularly hip, or assume what they do or don’t know on a given topic. Just make space for them. Find out what they care about in their schools, their neighborhoods, and the wider worlds. Put weight in these words and remember to return to them the next time you see them.
  3. Ask them about the library. This might seem a little less natural if
    you aren’t actually a teen librarian but stay with me here. If you’ve
    read this far, you clearly care about the well-being of the teens and
    young adults in your life. Why not see if they’re aware of the FREE
    resource in their community dedicated to meeting a wide array of their
    needs? Whether it’s studying for the SATs, looking for their first
    job
    , or diving into a new passion like anime, video games or DIY
    crafts, their local public library should be a one-stop shop. If they
    already know all this, great! Ask them what their experience has been
    like. Find out what’s been useful to them or what activity they
    enjoyed. If they’re not familiar, tell them what surprised you about
    your local library.

Ultimately, relating to the youngest adults in your family is not all
too different from relating to the older ones. Sometimes you’ll be on
the same wavelength and other times you won’t, but putting in effort
and having a sense of humor about generational differences can go a
long way. And of course, if you need a break from family conversation,
you can always check out holiday movies (DVDs or streaming!) from your
local library.