Times are tough for teens. They can’t hang out together at the mall without an escort during prime hours and they have a curfew on Halloween. For better or worse, they’re not able to have the kind of huge parties of past generations, thanks to strict liability laws for parents who let underage drinking happen on their property.
So what do they do?
The library and its teen programs is one institution that tries to provide an answer to that. Teen programs are hosted in the library on a weekly basis. Things are loose. They might hold discussions of books and films like the Harry Potter series, or play board games and build with Legos.
Librarian Christine Pacuk says the teens have input into the kinds of programming they’d like to see, voting the first Wednesday of each month on which activities they’d like to do in the upcoming weeks.
Walking into one of these afternoon sessions held in the teen room, you get the sense you’ve entered a secret club. Wearing Hogwarts t-shirts and band hoodies, they snack on gummy candy and make self-deprecating jokes. The teens’ banter includes lines from films and books and snippets of lyrics.
Pacuk rolls with it, weighing in herself about the best version of Batman. She also quotes Monty Python and cites an episode of “Mythbusters” as evidence for an argument she makes.
The teens have a good rapport with her. They call her Christine. She inquires about their relationship status and is treated with details often reserved for peers. “I like to think that I provide an adult figure they can feel comfortable talking with,” she said.
Being so close to the teens who come regularly, she is able to personalize the activities to each one’s interests. She tells a girl who comes late that she’s saved an ornament just for her to cut out for the Christmas tree they are decorating. It includes Gallifreyan writing, the language used by the Time Lords in the cult series, “Doctor Who.”
Pacuk says much of the behavior that gives teens a bad rap is beyond their control. “They don’t always think about the consequences of their actions, but that’s because their brains haven’t developed there yet. They’re at this ridiculously confusing part of life. Their emotions are everywhere, their bodies are changing and even the adults in their lives vacillate between treating them like children and adults.”
She calls the teens “passionate,” noting that very few of their feelings are neutral. She says she is inspired by being around them. “Working with teens keeps you on your toes, so you’re constantly adapting to new technology, new social networking, new media. It’s hard to not feel passionate when you’re surrounded by people who care so much about everything.”
Eighth grader Lizzie Cirafice, who has been attending the program most weeks for the past year, says she enjoys getting to be with people who are like her. Pacuk agrees that one of the biggest benefits to the program is the friendships the teens make. “A lot of the teens who come to the library programs make new friends, meeting people they wouldn’t have met otherwise, in different grades, different schools, different social groups. Also, the programs give them an outlet for their creativity, like the teenager who made flyers for our Comic Con back in August. They get to share the things they like, and in turn learn about new music, books, movies and games to try out.”
Since this is the library, learning is still a part of the experience. Some of the programming, such as making a solar powered s’mores oven, helps develop math and science skills, while others like MadLibs help them work on grammar skills. And of course, there are the books. The tree the teens decorated for the Festival of Trees included handmade ornaments inspired by classics like “Black Beauty” and “The Outsiders” as well as more modern young adult literature, all of which are discussed and dissected within the walls of their space in the library.