They "loiter," I am told - but as far as I can tell that means standing around and talking to your friends. I do that all the time without people complaining. What's the difference? From my informal interviews around the community, teens are seen as "threatening" when a bunch of them stand around wearing hoodies. If they swear, they are probably criminals. Right? Wrong.
It is in this situation - when a community is trying to organize resources and collectively solve a problem - that libraries can prove invaluable. Who better to create an environment of inclusiveness? Who better to find a way to create opportunity out of a challenge? Nobody, that's who!
So as I trudge out in the rain and talk to to kids in our community at the places they hang out, the one thing that resonates with me is that these kids are not at all what they've been classified as. They are not bad kids. They are kids who need attention and mentoring and perhaps a little bit of community parenting. What they don't need is people shrinking back in fear because they like their pants hanging down inches below their butt cracks. Heck...you should see the stuff I used to wear when I was a teenager!
I've found that asking them what they want from their community gives some insight into their needs. Often, they just want a place to hang out - or a person to talk to. So the next time you walk by a bunch of "tough" looking kids, take a moment and talk to them. I'm sure you'll opinion will change, too.