Texting for Dinosaurs

Never DoubtIf you’re a parent of teenagers, like me, you probably fret over the ubiquitous appendage found between their hand and their eyes: the smartphone. I know, I know… we moan about the loss of face-to-face interaction, we complain when they’re Snapchatting Julie instead of talking to us at the dinner table, and we try to impose no-phone zones.

I just don’t get the need to be wired-in all the time. That probably makes me a dinosaur. But times have changed, and I’m trying to keep up. With change though, comes opportunity – and in this particular case, the opportunity to connect with kids.

I work with bc211. We provide information and referrals to resources in the community. Some of this is basic need stuff: food, shelter, clothing. But just as often, it’s complex and multifaceted: a senior with addiction and mental health issues who’s at risk of eviction; a mom with twins trying to flee an abusive relationship; an individual who needs access to the food bank but has dietary restrictions.

bc211 Texting Service
bc211 is a free service offered 24/7 throughout southwestern BC, from the Sunshine Coast to Hope; from Lillooet to White Rock. People can contact us to connect with services in their community.

In February we launched a text messaging service. Now people throughout the bc211 calling area can text the name of their city to 2-1-1 and connect with an information and referral specialist by text messaging.

A Resource for Youth
Teenagers like my kids have grown up with texting, and social media, and instant access to information. It’s not just a luxury or frill to them (in spite of what a brontosaurus like me might think). It’s become a part of the fabric of their persona; it’s almost an extension of themselves.

Call or text 211bc211 recognized that to connect with kids, we have to meet them where they are at. For over 50 years, we’ve been delivering service by phone. But, at the risk of repeating myself, times — and technologies — have changed. Studies show that British and American teens are talking less and texting more. If my daughters are any indication, the same seems to be true here in the Lower Mainland.

So if kids are more likely to connect by text, it makes sense to open our information and referral service to texting. For now it’s another avenue to reaching kids, and offers them access to services that could help them meet some of the challenges in their lives. And, let’s face it, as these kids move from their teens to their twenties and beyond, they’ll take texting (and whatever other technology comes along) with them. Texting ain’t going away, Grandpa.

I was curious as to how other agencies may have adopted text messaging to serve kids. Here’s a bit of what I found stateside:

Texting against Bullying
In Baltimore, a program called Text 2 Stop It allows students to anonymously report bullying through a simple text message. The text number is given out to students at school, and they can report incidences of bullying and have a conversation with the text service employees. The service then passes along the information to the school’s counsellors and principal.

Text 2 Stop It is an invaluable tool as it allows kids to report incidents – from cyberbullying, to drug use, to harassment on the school bus – in real time, as it’s happening. The program launched as a pilot in the state of Maryland’s Queen Anne’s County schools. In the past year of the program, reported official bullying incidents have dropped 33 percent.

Texting against Smoking
Smokefree Teen is a site designed and run by people at the American National Cancer Institute to encourage and help teens quit smoking. They launched SmokefreeTXT a mobile text messaging program that provides 24/7 tips, advice, and encouragement to help youth and adults across the US to quit smoking. It’s a six- to eight-week program in which users receive up to five messages per day and can receive additional quit support by texting one of SmokefreeTXT’s keywords.

Texting for Suicide Support
Oakland California’s Crisis Support Services, an organization dedicated to suicide prevention, operates a text service where a young person struggling with suicidal thoughts can connect and engage in a text conversation with a trained counsellor.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After research came out showing that kids would rather text than use the phone, Crisis Support Services decided to meet youth at their level, and the text service was born. To date, text conversations have covered a host of teen issues: cutting, eating disorders, family conflict, relationship troubles, or someone just feeling isolated and looking for a friendly text.

Texting for Sexual Health
A study out of Washington State University found that a text messaging service was an effective medium for delivering sexual health information, particularly for teens at high risk.

Investigators looked at more than 2,000 students in six Washington State public schools where a text message service that connects teens to sexual health educators was promoted. Teens identified as “at-risk” — more likely to have had sex, to have been in a relationship, and to have come from a lower socioeconomic background — were more likely to use the service. In other words, the text message services were reaching the teens most likely to benefit.

Screenshot_211 Text msgYouth Communicate
bc211’s mobile text messaging service offers another avenue to access bc211’s services, using technology that youth have already embraced. By texting the name of their community to 2-1-1, anyone can contact our Information and Referral Specialists to connect with services to address their needs.

In a texting pilot project launched in Port Coquitlam schools, we found that, in 68% of the conversations, the texters only wanted to be listened to; they weren’t interested in receiving a referral to resources. This suggests youth may be more comfortable seeking support by text than by phone.

Most phone callers to 211—youth and otherwise—call for resources to fill a need. Anecdotally, the youth who contacted with us during this pilot project were more interested in expressing what they were feeling.

Community Resources through 211
We’ve been talking so far about youth and texting as a preferred means of communicating, but the 211 text messaging service is open to people of all ages seeking community services in southwestern BC. For more information, visit www.bc211.ca. If you’re seeking resources within your community, text the name of your community to 2-1-1 between 3:30pm-11:00pm, or dial 2-1-1 anytime of the day. You can also visit The Red Book Online, our online directory of resources, at redbookonline.bc211.ca.