|

Nagano counselors trial online consultations for troubled teens via Line messaging app

Chunichi Shimbun

Counselors in Nagano Prefecture were seen typing nonstop in September between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., as they replied to high volumes of consultation requests received via the Line messaging app.

None of the 10 counselors had ever provided counseling via text-only social media. They said they had to “be quick on their feet,” so the teenagers would not think they were being ignored.

The trial was run by the prefecture from Sept. 10 to 23. Counselors received 25 times more requests via the app than by telephone during the first week alone, with many teens looking to discuss serious problems and open up about emotional wounds.

More and more local governments are using communication apps to provide consultations to junior high and high school students about the problem of bullying, hoping teenagers will find it easier to talk about their difficulties when using a familiar platform.

On the first day Nagano operated the Line service, the counselors received about 400 consultation requests. Many of the teens confided that they didn’t want to go to school, or shared details about difficulties they faced in their lives.

The issues discussed ranged from relationships to worries over the future, and about which high school or university to aim for, in addition to bullying. The service was made available to roughly 120,000 junior high and high school students in Nagano Prefecture. Students could remain anonymous.

The counselors received an average of 170 consultation requests every day in the first week, of which they were able to handle 45 a day. The volume of requests was 25 times higher than the average for telephone consultation inquiries, which average 1.8 cases per day.

“It expanded their options for ways to get help,” said a Nagano Board of Education member. The board will consider providing the service officially in the future.

Using the Line app may lower the hurdle for teenagers to seek counseling. But for urgent cases, including when students seeking counseling hint at committing suicide or when they ask about specific bullying cases, it’s still better to talk on the phone or face to face.

Ideally, the service would be connected to the 24-hour telephone hotline offered by the prefecture, so that counselors can talk to the person directly and try to resolve the issue. It can be difficult to get a person’s personal information, such as name and address, through Line.

Kashiwa in Chiba Prefecture and Kumamoto Prefecture have each introduced bullying consultation services using apps, called “STOPit” and “Kids’ Sign,” respectively. The city of Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, will launch a trial consultation service via Line in November.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology also plans to survey and study the effectiveness of social media consultation services offered by 10 municipalities nationwide over the next fiscal year.

“Social media bullying is becoming a problem, and we have a responsibility as one of the companies providing the platform,” said an official at Tokyo-based Line Corp., which proposed the trial.

“In the United States, they receive many consultations and use artificial intelligence to examine the contents. Japan still has room to grow in terms of technological research in the field,” said Yasushi Sugihara, a professor at Kyoto University who specializes in clinical psychology.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun, and usually appears on Tuesdays. It is appearing on Wednesday this week because Tuesday was a press holiday. The original article was published on Sept. 28.