Peer Connection through TeenCentral.Net
By Sarah Harteis

To say the least, adolescence is a particularly stressful time in one’s life – and for many reasons. At the same time, it is the stage when learning problem solving skills is crucial in order to become responsible and productive adults in society.
When these skills are not developed properly, teens face a higher chance of turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, violence or other dangerous behaviors when problems arise. While there are a variety of ways in which people learn and grow in life, sometimes the most effective way we can learn is through the mistakes and/or experiences of others. When we put all our mistakes and experiences together, we can’t help but be able to find or offer advice on a similar situation.

Let’s face it. Teenagers would probably rather do anything else than listen to the advice of a parent or other adults. To them, all they hear is a lecture and opinion on something “they couldn’t possibly understand.” Instead, peers their age are seen as more relatable, and therefore, they are more likely to listen to what they have to say.

As a means of offering a safe place for teens to turn for help, KidsPeace developed TeenCentral.Net, an anonymous helpline website that allows for peer-to-peer interaction, including the sharing of stories, problems they’re facing, ideas, advice and support. The password-protected website has been around since 1998 and has seen much success with its approximate 590,000 members. This has proven to us that teens (and probably most adults as well) see more personal growth and change due to working with a group to help solve problems.

Andrew Carnegie once said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision; the ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” This is exactly what TeenCentral promotes; the working together of teenagers from all over the nation to strive toward the common vision of peaceful and effective problem-solving skills.

TeenCentral offers a variety of features. From alcohol and bullying to relationships and drug abuse, there is not a question out there that teens can’t find an answer to through the interactive website.

One feature that seems to be utilized often is called “Write your story!” This is where teens can share with others the challenges they are facing and what is concerning them. Peers are then able to share any advice they may have to help each other pull through the issues. What most teens don’t realize is that when they share these thoughts or when they dispense their advice, they are also helping themselves think and work out their own problem. It is truly a win-win situation. On top of this, members receive responses to their posts within 24 hours from professional counselors. Teens are free to use this advice as they please. Posted below are two of the latest stories:

lovemeforwhoiam, 14: My mom found out I’m dating one of my long time crushes and now won’t let me talk to him or see him. She is also pushing me too far with the things she has me do. The other day I had to clean the bathroom for an hour. She also remarried the man she cheated on my dad with. How do I handle these problems? Frankly I hate my step-dad and I hate my step-mom. My parents don’t see it and I don’t know how to tell them how I feel!

RennyKay, 18: I don’t really know how to do this, so my thoughts are going to be a bit erratic. I’ve graduated from high school, and I’m going into college to pursue my dreams. My mom’s moved into her new house, and she’s happy so far with her new boyfriend. I have a boyfriend of my own, and we’re happy together. Lately though, despite all the happiness and such, I’ve been feeling really depressed and sad and irritable all of the time. I have psychosis, depression, insomnia, OCD, and a few other mental issues, and it’s hard, but I’m working through them. I just don’t understand why I’m feeling so down lately. It’s hitting me hard, and I’m tired of it. But I don’t know what to do. I feel so pressured to stay happy all the time, but I’m slipping.

As you can see, the concerns of these teens are very real and very serious. Seeking advice from those who can help is a courageous act, and it can be a relief to simply get it off their chests. The concerns that come in cover many topics and are unique for each person.

If a teen does not feel comfortable posting a question or concern on the website, there are free podcasts available regarding the development of healthy relationship skills that may help answer their questions. Each podcast highlights a different scenario that teens are likely to face. Some of these scenarios include how to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy behavior, what to do when you find yourself becoming attracted to someone and how to handle a violent boy/girlfriend.

Let’s not forget about bullying. Bullying is a serious issue we face that has become increasingly prevalent in today’s society. According to statistics, about 30 percent of teenagers in the United States have been involved in bullying, either as a bully or as a victim of teenage bullying. Thanks to a grant from VerizonWireless, TeenCentral addresses this issue through its “Anti-Bullying League” by teaching teens about bullying and what they can do when faced with it. There are videos and games available to help demonstrate various scenarios and appropriate responses to each one.

It is safe to say that TeenCentral covers just about all issues that a teen may be faced with at one time or another. In addition to the features mentioned above, the website offers help and support in the areas of domestic violence, weight awareness, smoking and an upcoming topic of “Growing up Military” which addresses the struggles faced when you grow up with one or more parents being in the armed forces. Finally, celebrity stories are provided to give valuable information about the problems they faced as teens. Their stories and videos are posted to give another perspective. The celebrities include New York Giants football star Will Peterson, award-winning journalist Cindy Morrison, musical pop-group TGK and actress Amanda Seyfried, who became the national spokesperson for TeenCentral.net in 2006. These celebrities and many others have graciously shared their stories with us to help provide answers for teens who may be going through something similar to them.

TeenCentral has helped many teens overcome tough situations through a variety of resources. It has helped them become more confident, more knowledgeable and has even prevented some teens from committing suicide. There are not enough good words to say about the power of working with other people to solve problems. Although it’s easy to feel alone, everyone is different and therefore brings his or her own set of experiences. These experiences may hold the answer you or your teen has been desperately looking for. And if the answers don’t fall in your lap right away, just remember to do three things. Stay connected. Keep reaching out. Never lose hope.|