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Teen Line Honors Four Listeners, Luncheon Draws Attention to Cyber Bullying

Four local Teen Line volunteers—Brittany Susnow and Dorsa Peykar, seniors at BHHS, Sharon Peykar, senior at Tarzana’s Taft High School and Spencer Bronson, a senior at the Buckley School—will be honored at the help line’s annual Food for Thought luncheon next week.

The Peykar girls (cousins) have earned the Above and Beyond Award, “for their devotion and commitment” to the support phone line, said Elaine Leader, Ph.D, co-founder and executive director of Teen Line.

Susnow and Bronson will receive the Listener Award.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Cen-ter’s Teen Line, a teen-to-teen hotline, has been tackling serious issues for 29 years. Teen Line’s listeners handled more than 9,800 calls, e-mails and live chats in 2008 from teens across the nation and from as far as South America and New Zealand.

With “Coping with Cyber Harm” as the theme of the 22nd annual luncheon, featured speaker will be Tine Meier, mother of Megan Meier, the Missouri teen who committed suicide after being bullied on a social networking site.

Meier, who has worked with parents, teachers, children and lawmakers nationwide to fight bullying and Internet harassment, will receive Teen Line’s 2009 Humanitarian Award.

Meier left her real-estate job to devote herself full time to the Megan Meier Foundation, whose mission is to prevent bullying online and beyond.

In the Internet age, playground bullying has moved to e-mails, instant messages, and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Nearly half of teens surveyed in a National Crime Prevention Council Survey said they have been victims of cyber bullying, but only 10 percent say they would ever tell their parents.

Bronson and Susnow were involved in a cyber incident when a caller pretending to have a serious problem, turned out to be three teens playing a prank with the call on speaker phone. The exchange ended up on the Internet.

Bronson and others worked to have it removed, sending e-mails and making calls to the Web site. “It’s not cool to call a legitimate phone line as a joke,” Susnow said.

Sharon Peykar took a call from a girl who had been raped by a boy she met on the Internet. “The work we do is important,” Peykar said. And the phone line training has helped her settle on a career as a clinical phycologist.

To handle the host of issues they deal with, Teen Line listeners complete an intensive 60-hour training course covering such issues as drugs, pregnancy, gang activity, eating disorders, sex, rape, suicide, sexual orientation and depression.

There are also two professional counselors on each teen line shift to help the listeners and debrief them at the end of the shift.

Over the years, more than 1,500 teens have been taught the skill of active listing, asking questions like “have you thought about…” and “What if…?”

“We help them explore options,” said Susnow, who adds that friends who know of her volunteering often come to her for advice.

“I really look forward to coming here,” Susnow says of her Teen Line commitment. “‘You really helped a lot’ is the best line you can hear. The training we get—the ability to listen—is something we can use our whole lives.”

The success of the hotline they say is that it is teens talking to teens in an anonymous, confidential, non-judgmental way.

“The callers feel confident that they can say whatever they want,” said Dorsa Peykar. “They need someone who’s a peer that they can trust. I think that’s a big factor in why they call.

Leader adds that Teen Line has also been swamped with e-mails.

The volunteers say most of their calls deal with relationship difficulties, abuse and thoughts of suicide.

Susnow tells of talking to a depressed teen thinking of killing himself. He called her back later from the hospital to thank her for saving him. “Those are the kind of calls that stay with you,” she said.

As proof of its effectiveness, Teen Line was unanimously selected by the American Association of Suicidology to receive its 2009 Crisis Centers Excellence Award.

Leader traveled to San Francisco last week to accept the award which recognizes one crisis center each year for innovative programming.

Teen Line was honored for its Teen Suicide Prevention Com-munity Policing work with the Los Angeles Police Department. The award honors both the training provided to police officers who work with youth, as well as the contributions made by the team of suicide survivors who volunteer their time to educate the community on the important issue.

Teen Line is open daily from 6 to 10 p.m. at 310-855-4673 or 800-852-8336.

Teen Line’s major annual fundraiser, this year’s luncheon will be emceed by actress/singer Sheryl Lee Ralph.

The event on Wednesday, April 29 at the Beverly Hills Hotel begins with an  on-site boutique at 10 a.m. followed by the luncheon at 11:45 a.m.

An online auction can also be accessed at www.teenline.cmarket.com.

Tickets are $150. For information, call the Teen Line office, 310-423-1606 or visit www.teenlineonline.org.

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