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DAVIS TEEN LINE LISTENERS HELP THEIR PEERS DEAL WITH PROBLEMS

SHARE DAVIS TEEN LINE LISTENERS HELP THEIR PEERS DEAL WITH PROBLEMS

The second time 19-year-old Jason Torbensen answered the phone as a student volunteer for the Davis School District's Teen Line, a teenage girl chatted with him briefly and then calmly told him she had a gun in her hand.

"We talked and she didn't say anything massive until she told me about the gun," Torbensen said.His mind raced frantically as he tried to remember how he'd been trained to handle the situation. Without making a sound, he motioned for a counselor's assistance.

While Teen Line coordinator Karyn Bertelsen called 911 to notify police, another counselor scribbled Torbensen notes suggesting what he should say to the girl.

Minutes later, with chaos erupting around her as family members learned what was happening, the girl calmly agreed to put the weapon down and a near-crisis was over.

"I almost wet my pants," Torbensen said.

Since Teen Line started operating on Feb. 15, a corps of student volunteers and school counselors who work the only crisis intervention hotline operated under the auspices of a Utah school district have coaxed 10 callers out of attempting suicide.

They've listened to 16 teenagers facing problem pregnancies, two rape victims, 24 students battling drug addiction and one youth who feared he had AIDS.

But, said Torbensen, most people who call "aren't looking for heavy-duty psychiatric counseling. They just want to talk to someone who'll listen."

Bertelsen said most teenagers who call Teen Line want to talk to an anonymous peer about relationships with their friends, families and members of the opposite sex.

Teen Line gets calls from teenagers who say they're lonely, depressed, bulimic or confused about their sexuality. Frequent calls also come from youths grieving over a friend's suicide, a family death or a divorce.

"Most teenagers are much more comfortable discussing their problems with people their own age," said Peggy Hill, who works as a Teen Line counselor. "We see this simply as a good way to reach more people who may need help."

Teen Line operates every weeknight from 6 to 10 p.m. from a small room at the Davis district annex in Farmington.

A counselor and a team of four students handle each shift, and although basic information is asked of each caller, all calls and callers are confidential, as are the names and ages of students who answer the phones.

Most telephone conversations require no intervention or referrals, but students have available to them a resource manual they can use to refer callers to other agencies for additional help.

Bertelsen said district policy prohibits students from giving information or advice about birth control or abortion. Therefore, any questions about those two topics are referred to other agencies immediately.

"I'm always on the phone but my mom says I'm always doing all the talking," said Tami Fikstad, a Layton High sophomore. "I think this is a way for me to help while improving my own listening skills."

Heather Conlin, a senior at Davis High, is one of eight students who started the hotline and returned to act as a volunteer this year.

"Doing this makes me feel wanted and it's great for my self-esteem," she said. "It's a real ego booster when I feel like I've helped someone. I can live on that for about a week."