Adolescents Calling a Peer-Listening Phone Service: Variations in Calls by Gender, Age, and Season of the Year

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Adolescent health care providers spend a large amount of time getting to know the consumers they serve. While developing a relationship with adolescents, topics considered to be important by either the adolescent or the professional can be discussed. "High-risk" behaviors such as pregnancy, substance abuse, and suicide, are frequently considered important. It is often difficult to determine the topics that are considered to be important by adolescents because it is easier to assume their agenda is the same as that of the professionals. While in an ideal setting one would like to address all potential areas of concern with every adolescent, few if any professionals have that luxury. If gender, age, or seasonal differences in concerns of adolescents were known, those might be the preferred areas to be addressed.

After its first year of operation, Teen Line, a peer-listening phone service for adolescents demonstrated that they did utilize this service. Although crisis calls occurred, 62% of the reasons for calling concerned peer relationships, "just to talk," and family problems (Boehm, Chessare, Valko, & Sagar, 1991).

Teen Line attempts to utilize individuals to whom adolescents are most likely to turn - their own peers - in a way that is most helpful to them. This listening service does not hold itself out as a source of therapy or crisis intervention. Rather, it provides adolescents with a high school-aged peer who will listen to problems while maintaining anonymity of the caller. The volunteer helps the caller use problem-solving techniques that may help put an issue into perspective, as well as provide a framework for the resolution of future problems. In addition, the volunteer may refer the caller to a variety of community resources.

Since there are gender differences in physical maturation, behavior, and intellectual development among adolescents as they struggle with their identity and sexuality, there may well be different areas of concern for males and females (Cobb, 1992). While a recent paper by deAnda and Smith (1993) indicates that relationship issues are of primary concern to adolescents, to the authors' knowledge there are no studies which document gender differences in adolescents' concerns. According to Boehm et al. (1991), more females than males utilize our peer-listening service, so one might also expect that they call for different reasons. It may be that females feel more comfortable utilizing this service. Males may feel that they need to have a "problem" to call about, instead of calling "just to talk."

We would expect that as teenagers go through the developmental stages, their concerns would change. In early adolescence, individuals are using concrete thought and have difficulty understanding the long-range implications of their actions. They are concerned with self-image and peer relationships. In mid-adolescence, although abstract thought is used, it is not applied consistently. They become concerned about independence from their family and acceptance in their peer group. They also become involved in romantic relationships. Late adolescents are more future oriented. They become interested in close, stable relationships with friends and significant others. Relationships with their parents are of the adult-type (Johnson, 1989). Thus, one would expect that the early adolescent would call predominantly about self-esteem and peer relationships and that the mid-adolescent would call about family problems and sexuality.

Another expectation may be that calls would be made at times perceived as stressful. Therefore, phone calls regarding peer relationship issues and school problems may increase when school is in session, and calls regarding family problems may increase during the summer. In adolescence, suicide rates are higher in the fall and the spring (Neinstein, 1991). Persons with seasonal affective disorders (SAD) have increased symptomatology in the winter, with improvement in the spring and summer, and there is evidence that some individuals with bulimia also suffer from SAD (Lam, Solyom, & Thompkins, 1991). …

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