If you’ve ever tried to be there for a friend struggling with the pain of their parents’ divorce or the stress of getting cut from a team, you know how hard it can be. You worry about saying the wrong thing, or maybe you become frustrated when what you do say doesn’t help. So how do the Teen Link volunteers do it, night after night after night—and for kids they don’t even know?
To prepare its teen volunteers, Teen Link provides up to 60 hours of extensive training, including presentations on problems affecting teenagers, role-plays about issues team members are apt to encounter, and a month just listening to incoming calls. “We do a lot of training to understand the issues that Teen Link deals with on a deep level,” Eugenie says.
Teen Link’s mantra and tagline is “Talk it out,” based on the belief that simply talking to a good listener can save lives. Volunteers are trained in something called active listening, which includes validating the caller’s feelings—letting them know that their feelings are real and OK to have.
They say things like “I’m here for you” and sometimes even share a related experience of
their own. What volunteers don’t ever offer? Advice. Psychologists say people in crisis often need sympathy, empathy, and understanding more than they need solutions.
The volunteers also learn a crucial lesson early on: Sometimes they can’t handle every situation on their own. If a call is what they call a “hand- raiser”—meaning it involves abuse or an immediate threat to life—the volunteer will raise a hand to summon an adult staff member. The adult will put on headphones to listen in on the call and offer assistance by whispering in the volunteer’s ear.
So no one is ever alone—not the teens calling in, and not the dozens of teens who volunteer to lend support. Eugenie, Fiona, and the other teens who give hundreds of hours a year to Teen Link know that they cannot solve all problems or save everyone from harm.
But what they can do is be there.