This one is known as Mr Imrie’s first rule, and I put it in place for two reasons – firstly I am over 6 feet tall and fairly bulky, the last thing I want is to have someone scream “Oh my God! That monster what is he doing to the children?”
I have had that particular phobia ever since the incident where I picked up my cousin’s daughter in Curry’s to prevent her from toppling an expensive television and she screamed the place down, fortunately I was able to find my cousin and give her back before anything happened which in my mind was being picked up by the police for attempted abduction and deported.
It is the one boundary rule from which all others are established. As long as they follow the rule it shows they are actively thinking about engaging with you, it also building an almost subconscious level of respect. Eventually it becomes almost second nature and while they may recognize you as part of the library group they are also aware that you are apart from the group. In one of my previous libraries one of the teens introduced her friends to me by saying “This is Mr Imrie the Librarian, do not touch the Librarian, no-one is allowed to touch the Librarian!”
Anyway, back to the tip. One of the things I have learned about teens is when they are in a group they can get very huggy – and they can be indiscriminate in their hugs. Glomping has been known to occur.
I have only been hugged twice since starting working in the UK, the first was when one of my teens left the group to go to university, she hugged everybody and ambushed me and ignored my cries of “No touchy the librarian!” It was a bit embarrassing as I had some colleagues visiting the group from another local authority and I had been telling them about how I had been running the group. The second was after a group meeting and I was waiting at the bus stop and some of the kids were waiting nearby and started chatting to me about where they were going on their holidays when their bus arrived one of them hugged me to say goodbye then almost missed her bus as she started apologising for the hug and was worried about me getting into trouble at the library.
A friend of mine set up his rule by establishing his personal bubble space through mime and then saying “This is my bubble you are not allowed through it!”
Personally I prefer the Emperor’s New Groove approach
I do that whenever anyone tries to hug me, or looks as if they may be heading that way. It helps avoids awkwardness and can sometimes get a laugh.
There are a couple of exceptions to the no touch rule, these are either if someone wants to spud you (fist bump) or give you a high five. I can be persuaded to spud occasionally but never high five.
EDIT: Barry Lyga has a good post on working with teens from an author’s perspective: Remember that they’re kids