Calls to Teen Line: Representative Concerns of Adolescents

Article excerpt

In a survey of teenagers, teachers, and parents, Weiler, Sliepcevich, and Sarvela (1994) found that the adults believed teenagers were more concerned about high-risk behaviors than the teenagers themselves reported being. Issues particularly noted by adults were substance use, sexual activity, and AIDS. These topics have been the focus of media attention, school curricula, research, and health education in physicians' offices.

Studies by Adwere-Boamah and Curtis (1993), Kwok and Violato (1993), Kaufman et al. (1993), and Carr and Schmidt (1994) have also found that high-risk behaviors are not the most important concerns of teenagers. The breakdown of calls to Teen Line, a peer listening phone service for teenagers in the northwest Ohio area, lends support to these findings. What is not known is whether teenagers who use this service are an unusual population, or if their calls accurately reflect the concerns of teenagers in northwest Ohio

Teen Line has been in operation since May 1987 (Schondel et al., 1995). High school students answer calls from area teenagers five evenings per week. These volunteers complete over 60 hours of training, composed of didactic sessions and role-playing, prior to participating. Trainers include social workers, physicians, counselors, and pastors (Boehm, Chessare, Valko, & Sager, 1991; Boehm, Schondel, Marlowe, & Rose, 1995). The teens do not counsel; rather, they provide assistance through unbiased listening, problem solving, and referrals to local agencies when appropriate. Data on these calls have been described elsewhere (see Boehm et al., 1991; Boehm et al., 1995; Boehm & Campbell, 1995).

It has previously been reported that the need "just to talk," peer relationships, family problems, and sexuality were the most frequent reasons for calling (Boehm et al., 1995). Adolescents aged 11-13 were more likely to call regarding family problems, school problems, and peer relationships. Youths aged 14-16 were more likely to call regarding suicide, abuse, sexuality, and pregnancy. Youths aged 17-19 were more likely to call regarding substance abuse, mental illness, death, spirituality, and "just to talk" (Boehm et al., 1995). This developmental trend has also been noted by Nurmi, Poole, and Kalakoski (1994).

There are many peer listening services in the United States. If the calls they receive accurately reflect adolescents' concerns, these services could provide an easy way to monitor changes in salient issues. The present study sought to establish whether Teen Line calls were representative of the concerns of teenagers in the area served. Further, the results have implications for practitioners who work with teenagers.

METHOD

Calls to Teen Line from September 1993 to May 1994 were compared with responses to selected questions from the 1994 Chemical Abuse Reduced through Education and Services (C.A.R.E.S.) student survey. C.A.R.E.S. examines the substance use of elementary, junior high, and senior high school students every other year. In 1990 and 1992, population surveys of a majority of the school districts in Lucas County, Ohio, were undertaken. The 1994 survey, which was conducted in February, used a random sample of half of the students in the participating school districts. The 1994 survey for junior and senior high school students included several questions regarding their concerns, perceived concerns of their friends and peers, whether they had called a hotline (e.g., peer listening service), and what topics they might discuss. The questions were multiple choice and, in terms of concerns, students could choose one or more of the following: self-esteem, peer relationships, family problems, drugs and alcohol, sexuality, pregnancy, school problems, abuse, suicide, HIV/AIDS, death, legal, spirituality, eating disorders, and mental illness.

From September to May, calls to Teen Line were logged on an intake form, which records time and day of phone call, demographic data, as well as what was discussed during the call. …