When I was on my book tour for Totally Wired, I heard a few stories from guidance counselors and parents about how a teen at their school saw another teen's profile where that teen blogged about having suicidal thoughts and reported it, getting that teen help.
Just reading some of the posts here on BeingGirl's Girl Talk, it's clear that teens know how to help a friend online. Because you are all sharing so much of your lives in these types of online communities, I think it's important to be aware of how to help a friend in need; this article can help you help other teens in crisis online.
Be aware. Teens in distress may post about feeling depressed or engage in unsafe behaviors. Red flags to look out for can include:
- unsafe sex
- drug or alcohol abuse (particularly if it involves binge drinking, blacking out, overdosing)
- self harm (such as cutting)
- binging, purging or starving themselves
- meeting strangers online (or offline)
Avoid giving advice.
I'm not a licensed psychologist and neither are you so I would avoid trying to tell other teens what to do when they are in crisis. I'm not talking about situations like "my friend won't talk to me, what do I do" or "I like a boy who doesn't like me." I'm talking about the red flags listed above. A safe way to help someone in these situations is to send them a link to a resource where they can find the help they need from an experienced professional. If you aren't sure how to help a friend, seek advice from a concerned adult about what to do.
Instead of giving advice, sometimes the best help you can offer a friend in need is letting them know you're listening or reading online. It's hard to make eye contact or give someone a hug virtually, but you can post a comment that says, "I totally hear you," or "I'm thinking about you," and a fun graphic that's supportive and shows you care. Teens in distress often feel like they are alone with their problems. Don't underestimate the power of letting somebody know you are there for them.
If you aren't sure how to help a friend from school, and you're really concerned that they may hurt themselves or others, you should not hesitate to report what you've seen to your school guidance counselor or another concerned adult. Most guidance counselors will let you do this anonymously. If it's a teen you don't know personally, but they are threatening to hurt themselves or others, you should tell your parents and have them report this to local law enforcement immediately.
Being a member of a community means knowing how to help a friend whether it's at school or on Facebook. Be aware of friends or other teens in need, and keep this list of the following resource links handy:
Crisis hotlines—The Palo Alto Medical Foundation has a handy list of crisis hotlines just for teens. http://www.pamf.org/teen/hotlines.html
Cope. Care. Deal.—A mental health site for teens. All of the content has been reviewed by a psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent care. http://www.copecaredeal.org
FOX Pause—FOX teamed up with the Kaiser Family Foundation to create this resource rich site for teens. It's divided into Body, Mind and Relationships and is packed with info and links. http://www.fox.com/pause/
Boost Up—This site is designed to prevent teens from dropping out of high school, but has loads of good links and resources on all major issues just click on the "Thinking of dropping out?" link on the top right. http://www.boostup.org/