Monday, March 02, 2009 Comes Online

Today marked the official launching of a new website  Tassi, short for Teen Advice Suggestion, Support & Information, is a community-driven project developed by Red Dream Studios in collaboration with Jewish Family Services (now Agence Ometz). The website's sole function is to help teens find an ear to lean on. Questions of all topics can be asked, and generally, someone will be there to answer them, be it a moderator trained and coached by the Jewish Family Services, or ideally, other teens just like them. 

The creation of this website and the"selling" of it was a 9-month pre-production process. In my research on the topic of troubled teens, I came across some disturbing facts. The rest of this blog presents some of the information I put together as a proposal to the Jewish Family Services. I encourage you to read it, but more importantly, visit the site and promote it throughout your community. 

Some pertinent facts:
Quebec men have the highest suicide rate in Canada.

In a 1998-1999 study, Quebec had the highest suicide rate in Canada - 21.3 per 100,000 people.

Montreal is considered the unhealthiest city in Canada, leading the country the highest mortality rates for men from cancer, stress, suicide and the cumulative incidence of AIDS.

In 2006, the following was compiled by psychiatrists at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, which found links between "suicidality" and age, income levels and where a teen lives in Canada:
  • Male teens in B.C. had the highest attempted suicide rate, while those in Quebec reported the highest rate of depression. 
  • Nearly a quarter of the female teens from B.C. who took part in the study reported having had suicidal thoughts. 
  • Suicidality rates in Canada differ little from those in the U.S., despite the fact that universal health coverage north of the border gives Canadians better access to health care. 
  • Experts say the study indicates a need for school programs to better educate teachers about depression and suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among teens in Canada. 
  • The youth don't talk about their depressive moods to their physicians: A drop in grades, difficulties with other peers and participating in fewer social activities are signs of depression. 
  • The highest rate in depression is seen in Quebec, followed closely by the Prairies and B.C. More than 50 per cent of adolescents who commit suicide have experienced a form of depression.
Why online?
From 2000-2007, the PEW Internet & American Life research center has been examining teenagers’ use of the internet and has repeatedly shown that teens are one of the most wired segments of the American population. And teenagers, perhaps more than any other age group in the U.S., have been well-positioned to take advantage of new communications technologies and social media applications as they emerge.

Psychologists have long noted that the teenage years are host to a tumultuous period of identity formation and role development. Adolescents are intensely focused on social life during this time, and consequently have been eager and early adopters of internet applications that help them engage with their peers. In the first national survey of teenagers’ internet use in 2000, PEW found that teens had embraced instant messaging and other online tools to play with and manage their online identities. In a second major study of teens in 2004, PEW noted that teenagers had taken to blogging and a wide array of content creation activities at a much higher rate than adults. Teens who adopted these tools were no longer only communicating with text, but they were also developing a fluency in expressing themselves through multiple types of digital media – including photos, music and video.

And along comes MySpace…
MySpace was by no means the first social networking application to come to the fore, but it has been the fastest-growing, and now consistently draws more traffic than almost any other website on the internet. It has also garnered the majority of public attention paid to online social networking, and sparked widespread concern among parents and lawmakers about the safety of teens who post information about themselves on the site.

Social networking sites appeal to teens, in part, because they encompass so many of the online tools and entertainment activities that teens know and love. They provide a centralized control center to access real-time and asynchronous communication features, blogging tools, photo, music and video sharing features, and the ability to post original creative work – all linked to a unique profile that can be customized and updated on a regular basis.

Looking at a general picture of teen internet adoption, American teens are more wired now than ever before. According to PEW’s latest 2007 survey, 93% of all Americans between 12 and 17 years old use the internet. In 2004, 87% were internet users, and in 2000, 73% of teens went online.

While teens go online in greater numbers and more frequently than in the past, usage gaps between teens of different socio-economic status persist. Teens whose parents are less educated and have lower incomes are less likely to be online than teens with more affluent and well-educated parents. Of teens whose parents have college educations, 98% are online while only 82% of teens whose parents have less than a high school education are online. In general, income and parental education levels have a greater impact than race and ethnicity on the frequency of internet use.

Not only are more teens online, but they are also using the internet more intensely now than in the past. 89% of online teens use the internet at least once a week. The percentage of online teens who report using the internet daily has increased from 42% in 2000 and 51% in 2004 to 61% in 2006. Of the 61% of teens who report using the internet daily in 2006, 34% use the internet multiple times a day and 27% use the internet once a day. If teens log onto the internet daily, they are more likely to log on multiple times rather than once per day.

How can we help?
Given the fact that more and more teens are online in greater frequency than ever before, and given the rates of depression, anxiety, and influx of digital information available to teens online, the most natural solution to addressing and catering to teen issues is an online one.

For more than 140 years, Jewish Family Services of the Baron de Hirsch Institute, also known as JFS, has helped families to stay strong and connected. JFS offers intervention and prevention services to children, individuals, families, schools and communities with a view to supporting and enhancing personal and family health and growth. As a recognized leader in the field of social services and mental health, the JFS is in prime position to promote itself as an innovator of online advice and intervention services. With its breadth into the scholastic and community arenas, JFS has the “arms-reach” in order to promote a new venture by which teens and young adults can anonymously either find safe haven or search for advice or counseling through today’s modern and naturalistic communication network, online.