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I'm a huge fan of teenagers. I see them as brilliant, complicated creatures with incredible potential - and because I do, it breaks my heart when I hear adults disparage them. This seems to happen the most in the summer.
They assemble in groups and loiter, striking fear in the heart of the grown-ups because it can only mean trouble. And yes, sometimes it does. Admittedly as a bored teenager, I did things like steal lawn ornaments and throw fruit at cars. However, the key word there is bored. Boredom leads to trouble, but it is easily preventable.
A couple weeks ago, I took my fifteen year-old niece and her friends to a zine-making event put on by Rookie, the online teen magazine that I write for, followed by Saigon Pho for dinner and Brown Cow for ice cream. It was a simple day, but they were thrilled just to have something to do. They're at that awkward age when their parents consider them independent enough to make their own fun, but they can't drive, don't have a lot of money, and there aren't many places for them to go.
In fact, they lamented as we drove past the former Borders location in Oak Park as it was a rare place where they could just hang out, peruse the shelves, get a coffee, and talk.
I wish they lived in Forest Park because I would have had a suggestion for them-the library's Teen Territory. Youth Services manager, Susan Kunkle is a great advocate for teens with an outlook similar to mine. "I feel like I hear a lot of, 'What are we going to do about our teens?' as if the kids themselves are the problem, when I wish it could be, 'What can we do for our teens?'" she says.
Fortunately our Forest Park librarians did ask that question, and as a result they've beefed up teen programming and created Teen Territory, a dedicated, enclosed space just for teens, which has been around for a little over a year now. Susan tells me that before it opened they had a "small but loyal group of older teens," but weren't getting many newcomers. When Teen Territory opened, the population increased "practically instantaneously" and has stayed up.
Regina Townsend, Youth Services Outreach Librarian, said "With teens often feeling like they're the last to be thought of, this space has truly shown them that they are valuable to us here, and that we respect and invest in that value. For us as a library to be able to somewhat compete with traditional summer activities such as water sports says a lot about how comfortable our teens are here. We provide a clean, cool, and entertaining option that keeps many of them out of the heat, and out of trouble."
Part of that appeal is the gaming-Regina adds that ours is the only library in the area to allow free gaming all the time-but Youth Services also does an incredible job of creating unique events. On Friday the 13th, they're hosting an after-hours Dark Knight Ball to coincide with the release of the new Batman movie, featuring a live DJ, snacks, and prizes for best costume, the grand prize being a gift card for two to see the movie. That happens to be my birthday and I totally want to go, but it's teens-only. So as a gift to me, if there's a Forest Park teenager in your life, please tell them about it. Trust me, there's nothing like the delight on their faces after you introduce them to something cool.