Teens and Boundaries

This is one issue where I can honestly say I’m not entirely sure where I stand just yet. I don’t work with teens. I work with kids, and so I think the rules of boundaries are different. By different I mean, most of the kids I’ve had programs with are too shy to ever ask me for a hug, but are perfectly fine with practically stepping on my feet while getting a close up view of a picture book they find especially eye catching.

I found the advice in Real-World Teen Services a little awkward. The instructions come off as very rigid, in a way that makes me think it would make the incident even more awkward. Put into practice, however, I could see it as a necessary way to avoid uncomfortable physical contact with the teen. I believe that the way one should behave in this kind of situation depends both on the library’s policy and and what the librarian is comfortable with. The library staff may have already established a way of handling teens who are comfortable with physical contact.

I’m new to my job, but I have seen a teen patron come to visit another librarian in the children’s room. The librarian was around when the teen patron was a child and using the children’s room, so they have known each other for a long time. Whenever the teen visits, she immediately hugs the librarian. It doesn’t seem to be a problem to anyone.

Going back to myself, I think that if I’ve already established a friendly relationship with a female teen, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable hugging her. A male teen I would actually feel more uncomfortable with. Culturally, female bonding generally encourages physical affection, regardless of age. For males, it’s different. When I thought this over, my initial thought was that if a male teen wanted to hug me, it would mean that he’s too attached to me. I would assume that he had a crush on me, or felt too emotionally dependent on me in a way that was inappropriate for a librarian-patron relationship.

I will stress, however, that this is just my initial thoughts on a matter I haven’t faced yet. In the moment, I might have different opinions. To prove my point, our children’s room had a just turned 18- year-old male page who left the library to go to college. He came home for the Thanksgiving holiday to visit us, and went to give me a hug as soon as he saw me. I had no issue with hugging him back. I think much of how you feel depends on circumstance.

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