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RevolTeens: Sometimes Simply Surviving is the Best Way to Revolt, by Christine Lively

*Reposted from Teen Librarian Toolbox blog of the School Library Journal

It’s bad out there for teens right now. To say that the outlook is bleak seems redundant and unhelpful, but truth always helps more than sugarcoating in my experience. I’ve worked with teens for years and they can always tell when an adult is lying, trying to make them feel better, or not telling them the whole story. I have never wanted to be that kind of educator or librarian. I am sure that many of you reading this don’t want to be that way either.

Schools are closed, or they’re open and then closed, and that huge and overriding rhythm of the school year calendar with all of its beginnings and endings feels swept away. Sure, the school year started, the semester has ended, and students will graduate in the summer, but the ebb and flow of school days, lunches, dismissal, and all the other changes that rush in and out like the tides each day feel absent without the people all in the same building working to learn, to love, and to change.

Teens are struggling with the loss of all the normalcy they had. No sports, no church, no hanging out, no dates, no parties, no clubs, are happening right now. Oh, and there’s a constant threat that they or someone they love may get sick and die at any time.

The greatest way for teens to revolt against this horrible nightmare of a pandemic is to just keep going.

RevolTeens are usually highlighted here for their extraordinary acts of courage and principle, for challenging the status quo and speaking out. So many teens right now just need to keep the courage to continue taking care of themselves and to keep hoping for the time “after” this pandemic.

That’s where we come in as librarians, community members, and educators. We have to support them. We have to let them know that whatever it is that they’re doing to get themselves through these days is a valuable coping skill that will serve them well into the future. They need to know that usual measures of success and failure have been put aside by all of us, and they deserve to cut themselves a whole lot of slack. Their primary job right now is to survive this pandemic.

At our high school library, we held a “Get Cozy” event outside our front doors one cold rainy Monday in December. The library staff and the PTSA collaborated to give away hundreds of books to students who stopped by to browse and to those who come to the school to pick up their lunches. The PTSA made goodie bags with packets of hot cocoa, microwave popcorn, candies, and a note from the PTSA to “Get Cozy with a Good Book!” A staff member set up a large projection screen and played videos of the school chorus and the school band performing Christmas music via Zoom. It felt like we were all together for a moment.

The event was a success. Teens showed up to browse for books for themselves or their friends. They were absolutely delighted to receive the treats given to them in their little gift bags. It was a moment for us to invite the students to come so they could see that we are all still here, even if we’re not together, and we still care about them. It felt great to let them know that we care, and that we’re still around.

We’ll be holding another “Get Cozy” event in two weeks. It will be cold. We won’t be allowed to congregate inside the building. Even so, we’ll be there for our teens, and let them know that they have to keep going so that they can continue the revolution when we’re together again.

So, I hope that this month, we can all reach out to the teens we serve, the teens we love, and let them know we’re here for them, and that we know that this is impossibly hard. When they find a way to keep going, they’re showing all the courage, strength, and love we could ever ask of them.

About Christine Lively

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