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Is New York's Teen Texting Program A Bust?

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A pilot program introduced six months ago to enable New York City teens to text their troubles to certified counselors for help appears to be a bust. Despite being widely publicized in the schools which it was made available, only a total of 149 users have sent texts to the service since its inception.

The NYC Teen Text service was highly publicized in March when it was introduced by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The teenage daughter of the two, Chiara de Blasio, became the spokesperson and poster child for the program.

The service was made available at 10 of the city's most prestigious high schools, including Stuyvesant High School, High School For Mathematics, Science And Engineering At City College, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School.

"NYC Teen Text will provide our young people with a safe, convenient and confidential way to get in touch with trained crisis counselors when they're feeling overwhelmed" said McCray. "When it comes to helping people access mental health services, we will be more effective if our tools keep up with the times."

Introductory packets were distributed to the over 19,000 students in the pilot group, along with posters prominently featuring Chiara plastered in high traffic areas such as bathrooms and water fountains. Despite the marketing push, usage of the program to date has been negligible, averaging around just one user per day.

The city apparently feels that the best way to remedy this lack of use is to expand the program. In January, the service, which is currently available only from mid-afternoon until 9 p.m., will be available 24/7, with officials arguing the expansion is necessary because most teens would prefer to reach out during nighttime hours.

Perhaps it's not the timing itself but the nature of the service that has teens reluctant to participate. It might be that teens don't trust a process, which involves memorializing personal and potentially embarrassing feelings in writing and sending them to a program run by the government. Or perhaps, even though texting is clearly the method of choice for teens when communicating between themselves, when it comes to discussing complex personal problems, questions, and issues with counselors, they may prefer to do so the old fashioned way – talking.

Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a program that New York City teens may not even want, officials might consider doing a bit of research to ask them directly what it is they actually need.

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