Technology Helping Teens In Crisis

It’s said that if you want to get through to young people, you have to meet them at their level. To say that today’s teens are “Internet addicted” and “text obsessed” is an under statement.  As the new preferred mode of communication among young people- along with all the other internet induced forms of communication like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc… it seems that a new texting hotline is making it easier for teens in crisis to seek help.

Picking up the phone can be foreign and uncomfortable for some young people- as unaccustomed as they are to this direct mode of speaking. So it’s understandably a stretch to imagine today’s teens picking up the phone to actually call a crisis hotline.

Technology to the Rescue

Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit hotline that launched in August, joined a handful of crisis centers around the country counseling young people via text. The group hopes to be able to direct any teen, anywhere, to their needed services without requiring a phone call.

The hotline is based in New York, but as they develop the service, Chicago and El Paso, Texas, are two cities organizers are also focusing on.

“Ultimately, we’re aiming to be as big and well known as 911,” said Nancy Lublin, the hotline’s founder.

Lublin, also CEO of, a nonprofit for teens and young adults interested in social change, saw a need for a text-based hotline after that organization started actually texting teens about opportunities to help out… And teens actually started texting back — not with questions about activism, but more significantly with calls for help.

Texts arrived each month from teens struggling with Internet and drug addiction, bullying, depression, eating disorders, suicide and forms of abuse. According to a 2012 report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, the typical young person sends 60 texts a day, or 100 for girls between ages 14 and 17. About 63 percent text on a daily basis, far more than those who talk on a (cell) phone (39 %) or socialize face to face (35 %).

Young people need to know there’s someone “ out there” who cares. And they need to have a way of contact these care givers in way that seems most natural to them.

Texting: A Call for Help

When someone texts Crisis Text Line with a problem, the message is routed to one of more than 50 counselors at crisis centers in Miami, Boston and Seattle. The counselors use an online chat-like program to text with teens, helping them to figure out what they need. Sometimes, that simply means talking through a problem. Other times, the counselor might refer a teen to another organization better able to help. Counselors will try to connect teens to other groups with text hotlines if that’s what they’re most comfortable with, however, if they think a teen needs to call or talk to someone face to face, they’ll absolutely do what they can to make it easier to take that step.

There’s a huge need for more centers, as most already in existence have trouble keeping up.

The sheer number of texts teens send isn’t the only reason some hotlines are trying to be more text friendly. The added benefit is that text conversations are private and discreet- unlike phone calls that might be overheard.  This also allows young people to feel – making it easier for teens to disclose information they struggle to talk about.

Texts also create data that’s easier to analyze than calls. Crisis Text Line is currently creating a team of researchers that will study how message wording, length and timing affect how teens respond. They’re waiting until they’ve collected more data to release results but have created a system that looks for keywords suggesting a risk of imminent harm and moves those texts to the front of the line.

Why it’s Working

Technology lets teens look for help and information without exposing something they might be uncomfortable revealing, particularly to their parents. Talking to a doctor and calling a hotline were among the least popular options. While talking to a friend is the most common choice, texting someone comes second. In an Internet addicted world it’s no wonder that young people would also rather use online tools like instant messaging or social media for help.  However, sometimes, the technology they’re comfortable using can lead to the wrong kind of advice, (such as websites encouraging suicide and eating disorders). This brings to light to how in demand crisis text lines are and how important it is to make sure young people can also find real assistance. The younger someone is, the less likely they are to use the phone hotlines or approach someone in person. These are people who probably wouldn’t get help any other way.

Crisis Text Lines & Post Wilderness Therapy

The therapists at Pacific Quest develop and present an assessment of a student’s needs in the next placement and transition. They work with families, students and educational consultants to determine the next best fit for the student. Students have the chance to talk to their parents and educational consultants about these plans, and discuss any struggles and challenges that lay ahead… challenges that will need specific and comfortable, known actions for young adults to take. Therapists usually provide student contracts and/or more specific transition tools if necessary and it’s very exciting to be able to add crisis text hotlines to the list.

Perhaps it’s time to spread the word… via texting, of course!


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