SPECIAL REPORT: Texting for Help

SPECIAL REPORT: Texting for Help

(WTVM) - How can you get teenagers to communicate? It's something every parent has probably wondered at one time or another.

We found some crisis and counseling centers are having success asking teens and others to text for help!

After all, texting is one of the top ways teens like to communicate and 63 percent of them text every day. But are there digital disadvantages to this growing trend?

News Leader 9's Cheryl Renee explains in this Special Report: Texting for Help.

When that new message notification pops up on the screen, these counselors have to act quickly, because someone is texting in and needs help. "Anitra" is an advocate who knows what it's like to turn to texting in a tough situation.

"I felt very trapped," said Anitra. "I felt like I couldn't tell my family what was going on."

Anitra says she was in an abusive relationship before these new high tech hotlines existed.  She too felt more comfortable reaching out by text and leaned on her friends.

"It takes away, you know, some of the awkwardness," Anitra said. "You can probably say things that you wouldn't in person through a text message."

Tapping in to that anonymity, counseling centers across the country are starting to offer text for help hotlines.

We found assistance at your fingertips now available for problems including peer pressure, relationship issues and bullying. The National Dating Abuse Helpline says it receives more than 850 texts a month.

"It was amazing to me to hear young people say this is the most private way for them to communicate," said Katie Ray-Jones, president of National Dating Abuse Helpline.

It's so private that some teens text in during school, or while they're with their parents.

Hotline staff members admit it's challenging to give concise advice in a short text and often send links to websites with more information.

"There's always going to be that missing nuance when you're not hearing the tone of someone's voice," said Nicole Seligman, advocate for National Dating Abuse Helpline. 

This licensed clinical psychologist says texting for help is a powerful way to reach teens, and even adults.  But because it's so new, mental health professionals need to create some basic guidelines.

"We can get so easily swept away in new technologies we forget that there are some factors in there that can really harm our ability to do our job as well as we can," said Dr. Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist.

Dr. Durvasula says she's concerned about potential digital dangers like texts for help that don't get through, keeping messages confidential using secure networks and crisis centers' protocols in emergencies.

Katie Ray-Jones says they've got a plan for that at the national dating abuse helpline:

"If someone sends us a text message and they are in the throes of a violent situation we're going to advise them to call 911," Ray-Jones said. " If 911 is not an option for them, we are going to talk about can you get to a safe place."

Anitra says she wishes text for help lines existed when she was younger.

"I would have used that. Just because it would have been anonymous. Being able to text someone who I don't know and just give them the overall you know situation like â hey, is this normal, is this acceptable?"

Dr. Durvasula points out letting teens text in for help can open the door for kids who might feel there is a stigma associated with reaching out, but she warns that texting should not replace long term face-to-face counseling.

For more information about the National Dating Abuse Helpline, visit their official website at this link.

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