Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Getting Teens to Help — And Helping Them — Via Text

nancy_lublin1If you have teenage kids, you probably know better than most that the only way to get their attention, if indeed you can get it, is to send them a text message.

It’s a fact that Nancy Lublin puts to good use. As the head of the nonprofit activism organization DoSomething.org, she reaches out to teens via text messages, hoping to get them to — as the name suggests — do something.

It may be donating protein-rich peanut butter as part of the Peanut Butter Jam Slam. It’s a competition with two teams — Team Crunchy and Team Smooth — and the benefactors are local food banks. Or it may be an educational campaign to fight teen pregnancy using a game that involves a virtual “baby” that wakes up at 6:30 am and requires frequent care. The lesson being, “If you can’t take care of a pretend baby on your phone, you might want to keep your zipper closed,” Lublin said in an interview with Ina Fried at D: Dive Into Mobile in New York.

The organization announced today that it had reached one million teens via weekly text messages that are proving remarkably effective: More than 2.4 million U.S. teens participated in Do Something campaigns in 2011. About 97 percent of messages sent are opened. Take that, direct mail.

Another new initiative is a teen crisis line that works via text message. If a teen girl sent messages seeking help about being sexually abused by her father, there wasn’t much to do but direct her to call existing crisis centers. “She had nowhere to go,” Lublin said. Soon, girls like her will, and so will teens facing other kinds of crises, whether it’s sexual abuse, bullying or eating disorders.

The organization’s text-based teen crisis line will launch Aug. 1. And getting teens the help they need is only one benefit. The other is the gathering of valuable data about the occurrences of these problems. “No one knows how often this stuff happens,” Lublin said. “We’ll finally be able to get preventative data to help prevent this shit from happening in the first place.”


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