Last year my friend Ernest met Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth. He didn’t recognize them immediately, that is until a few people pointed it out. But if you know Ernest, you know he has this amazing ability to make everyone feel like a friend. He didn’t freak out, didn’t treat them like rich, famous celebrities. Instead, he hung out with them as if they were me, as if they were S. They ate, drank, had a great time, and even ended the night with a dance off . (You can read the full story here.)
Now, I’m not mentioning this to brag about my cool friends (although, you guys, I have really cool friends).
When I started teaching years ago, I was told to treat my high school students like, well, teenagers. Like kids. And in a way, sure, I did. I wanted to protect them, teach them, nurture them. But when talking to them? No way. I treated them like adults. Because you know what teens hate? Being thought to be children. Being talked down to. So instead of belittling them, I treated them as I’d treat my friends (only, you know, in a more professional, teacher-appropriate way).
And it worked. I had some of the most amazing students, many of which still message me with brilliant updates. We had a mutual respect, but they were never afraid to tell me about problems they were having, or colleges that accepted them.
I’m bringing the same thought to librarianship now. I’m in charge of reviving teen programming at the library and for the past few months i’ve been talking to our teen patrons about what they’d like to have here. What kind of programs and books and movies and things they’re interested in. And you know what? I’ve met some of the coolest teens in the process. One talked to me about YA mysteries for 20 minutes. Another high fived me for being a fellow nerdfighter. Another even confided in me that school kind of sucks, but books make her happy. A co-worker laughed at me (in a good way), commenting on my innate ability to relate to teens. And I loved that comment. You see, not once did I treat any of the teens like children. I treated them as equals because, you know, they are.
I take this approach with writing, too. I won’t write down to teens; never will I assume they can’t understand, or can’t grasp a concept. Because they’re smart, more mature than many people think. They are our future, after all.
So here’s my advice for today: treat everyone like a friend. Be nice, be equals. Don’t talk down. Because you never know when it will lead to an inspiring moment, or a new friend. Or, even, a crazy dance off.