As kids move online, the telephone help lines that serve them are finding that they’d better move too—or risk becoming irrelevant.
Winnipeg counselling line Teen Touch learned that lesson the hard way. It recently announced that it will hang up its phones on Sept. 1, citing text messaging and online social networking for the agency’s demise. A spokeswoman says that as more kids turned to the Internet, calls had dropped by more than 80 per cent—from 10,000 calls a year to 2,000.
The Crisis Centre for Northern B.C. experienced the same phenomenon. Calls from youth have “been decreasing over a number of years,” says one executive director. The centre is currently looking at building up its online services, but it may be too late. The director, who wishes to remain anonymous, couldn’t say whether the centre will continue to operate in the future.
Organizations that made a timely transition to the Web, on the other hand, say they haven’t experienced a decline in youth participation at all. “About five years ago we had a decrease in the number of calls we were getting from youth,” says Alexis Mardis, communications coordinator for the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C. After consultation with focus groups, the centre invested in an online service. Mardis says that by 2004 their online contacts began to explode “astronomically.” As of 2008, about 14,540 youth visited YouthInBC.com and 1,428 accessed the instant online chat service.
“The number of youth we are helping overall is more or less the same now as 10 years ago,” says Mardis. “It’s just that we’re helping them more online now.”
Aren vanDelden, a counsellor at Kids Help Phone in Toronto, says her service has found success on the Internet too. “I received a call from a 16-year-old who said she’s been writing online for months but now she’s ready to start talking,” says vanDelden. “We still find that they are very different services,” she adds. But “they work side by side. They complement each other.”