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“I sometimes worry that it would come across as too ‘Oh, I got you! Neutral language allows the texter to feel anonymous. But this is precisely what one is not supposed to do when communicating with a teen-ager in crisis.
These people have contacted a stranger for a reason. Often, the conversations are about minor-seeming problems—fights with friends, academic pressure from parents—and the bar for helpfulness is quite low. Nobody ever does that,’ and at other times it’s less explicit; they just want to get everything out, and they provide you with a very, very detailed account.”The etiquette encouraged for counsellors can be surprising. Instead, counsellors are trained to deploy language that at first seems inflammatory: “You must be devastated” is a common refrain; so is “That sounds like torture.” The idea is to validate texters’ feelings and respond in a way that doesn’t belittle them.
Shih was responsible for sending out text messages to teen-agers across the country, alerting them to various altruistic opportunities and encouraging them to become involved in their local communities: running food drives, organizing support groups, getting their cafeterias to recycle more.
(Up to fifty people, most of them in their late twenties, are available at any given time, depending upon demand, and they can work wherever there’s an Internet connection.) An introductory message from a counsellor includes a casual greeting and a question about why the texter is writing in.
If the texter’s first message is substantive (“My so-called boyfriend is drunk and won’t stop yelling at me”), the counsellor echoes the language in order to elicit additional details (“I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m freaking out”), the reply will be more open-ended, while gently pressing for greater specificity (“So what’s going on tonight? An average exchange takes place over a little more than an hour, longer if there is the risk of suicide.
Also bad: making assumptions about the texter’s gender or sexual orientation, sounding like a robot, using language that a young person might not know. ”); strength identification (“You’re a great brother for being so worried about him”); and empathetic responses (“It sounds like you’re feeling anxious because of all these rumors”).
Techniques that are encouraged include validation (“What a tough situation”); “tentafiers” (“Do you mind if I ask you . The implicit theory is that in a conversation people are naturally inclined to fill silences. In text messages sent to friends, typos can be an indication of intimacy.