Teens' Concerns: A National Evaluation

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Previous research found that adolescents in Toledo, Ohio, utilized a peer listening phone service predominantly for four reasons: to discuss peer relationships, family problems, and sexuality issues, as well as to have someone "just to talk to." The present study investigated whether adolescents in other areas of the United States used such services for similar reasons. Data were collected at four sites--Toledo, Los Angeles (California), Martinsville (Virginia), and Syracuse (New York)--over the course of one year. The results indicated that the callers were predominantly female and of high school age. The most frequently discussed issue was peer relationships (46% to 60%), regardless of site. Another frequent topic at all sites was family problems (10% to 20%). Other concerns varied by site.

It has previously been documented that adolescents in Toledo, Ohio, used a peer hotline primarily to discuss the concerns they had regarding their relationships with peers and family, sexuality issues, and "just to talk" (Boehm, Schondel, Marlowe, & Rose, 1995). It has also been shown that phone calls to this hotline (over a 12-month period) were generally representative of the concerns of adolescents living in the catchment area (Boehm, Schondel, Ivoska, Marlowe, & Manke-Mitchell, 1998). These results are in agreement with those of several other studies of teens' concerns, in that risky behaviors were not highly ranked (Adwere-Boamah & Curtis, 1993; Carr & Schmidt, 1994; Kaufman, Brown, Graves, Henderson, & Revolinski, 1993; Weiler, Sliepcevich, & Sarvela, 1994). Adults often believe that teenagers are very concerned about high-risk behaviors, such as sexual activity and substance abuse (Weiler, Sliepcevich, & Sarvela, 1994), and, interestingly, although the adolescents in Toledo did not identify these as their top personal concerns, they reported that such issues were prominent for teens "in general" (Boehm, Schondel, Ivoska, Marlowe, & MankeMitchell, 1998).

There are many phone services that provide adolescents with an opportunity to talk with peers about their problems (Schondel, Boehm, Rose, & Marlowe, 1995). The present collaborative project, involving four of these services, was undertaken in order to document teenagers' concerns in different areas of the United States: the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. These hotlines are operated by teenagers, and calls are not transferred to adult-operated hotlines. It was hypothesized that, despite geographic variations, teenagers would call predominantly because of the need just to talk to someone, as well as to discuss peer relationships, family problems, and sexuality issues.

METHOD

Using a standardized intake form, data were collected at four sites--Toledo, Los Angeles (California), Martinsville (Virginia), and Syracuse (New York)--from September 1, 1994, to August 31, 1995. In Toledo (local population 332,900), the hotline had been in operation for 8 years at the time of the study. In Los Angeles (local population 3,485,400), the hotline had been in operation for 12 years. In Martinsville (local population 85,000), the hotline had been in operation for 2 years. In Syracuse (local population 163,900), the hotline had been in operation for 5 years. The Toledo service had a toll-free phone number with nationwide access, and the Los Angeles service had a toll-free number with statewide access. All youths, and the adults who supervise them, had received intensive training prior to participation, with calls being answered by teenagers during evening hours.

The Syracuse hotline was housed in a school and operated from October to June. Fewer calls were recorded in January due to three weeks of trouble with the phone lines. The service was ended in April because of lack of funding.

Data collected included demographics and reason for calling, which was coded as follows: abortion, abuse, death, drugs and alcohol, eating disorder, family problems, gangs, HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, just to talk, legal (except at the L. …