If a problem comes along, you must ban it…

30 03 2008

Michael Stephens recently blogged about the Mishawaka Library’s ban on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. According to the post, “Fights, lewd language, and cars being blocked in the parking lot by teenagers” were cited as the reasons behind the ban.

The ban is controversial, and the comments left below the post reflect that. One anonymous commenter vehemently defended the ban, saying “Myspace and Facebook are NOTHING more than distractions to pollute the already sensory-overloaded psyche of the American youth. Would it kill these rude and foul mouthed kids to pick up a book every once and while?” Yikes.

I don’t know firsthand what Anonymous’ experiences have been with teens in the library; undoubtedly they haven’t been positive. But I think this type of bitterness toward teenagers reflects a much bigger problem in communities across the country — fear, distrust, and resentment of young people.

Banning resources isn’t a strategy for improving behavior; its an attempt to rid the library of pesky teenagers. I’ve found that in my own experience that banning a particular service or resource doesn’t solve discipline problems. The unwanted behavior continues, but in a different part of the library. Throwing things, vandalism, picking on other children, cursing at strangers — none of this requires that teens have access to MySpace.

What I’ve found does improve behavior is creating programming for teens, developing a relationship with them, and making sure they know the rules and are corrected when those rules are broken.

I don’t know the teens at this particular library, but I doubt that every one of them spells trouble. I also doubt that every one of them deserves to be punished on behalf of those who misbehave. What I don’t doubt is that every one of them will feel the affect of this ban, and will feel mistrusted, alienated, and undervalued because of it.

I just hope the ban solves Mishawaka’s parking lot problem. It would be a shame to alienate an entire demographic of people for no good reason.

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