A practical new crisis hotline launched by LEAD, a Lake Forest-based nonprofit group, provides immediate responses by licensed clinicians to youth who critically need mental-health assistance for themselves or for friends, and it reaches out using a technology that adolescents and teens know best: texting. It’s called Text-a-Tip, engineered by Public Engines through their software, TipSoft SMS, and it provides anonymous, 24/7 text responses to reports of serious problems like depression and teen suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, sexual assault, and child abuse.
Phone-based crisis hotlines across the country provide a voice of comfort and resources for youth who call for help. But life is different now. Generation X is the last generation to know the world before cell phones, the internet, and caller ID being the the norm on cell and land lines. Teens today are texting and do not make phone calls. The Text-a-Tip program is meeting struggling teens where they are and in the world they live in.
Crisis Text Line, the first free 24/7 nationwide text line, identified another target group: the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The text line might not have the advantage of localized resources to respond to emergencies, but it provides crisis counseling to those who need emotional support but feel they cannot get it. As of September of this year, the Crisis Text Line received over 8 million text messages in just over two years.
Both Text-a-Tip and Crisis Text Line represent acknowledgement that we live in a different world now. We might know little about the cyber challenges our children face, but they know virtually nothing of life before the internet’s digital realities took center stage in our culture. Parents, consider their models; that is, if we hope to reach young people, step into their world and speak at least a little of their language.