“Hi, and welcome to our chat.” This is how Linea Pretzmann always initiates the conversation when meeting a young person on Cyberhus. “We always start out by welcoming our young people and letting them know that they should feel free to talk about anything on Cyberhus – including issues that are really difficult to talk about. And that we are not telling others,” says Linea. Linea Pretzmann has been a counsellor with Cyberhus for three years. Each year, she helps counsel and guide more than 8,000 children and young people in Denmark about everything from heart-aches to eating-disorders, violence and abuse:

[caption id="attachment_13708" align="alignright" width="272"]Anonymous chat counselling Photo: Gorm Olesen[/caption]

“Cyberhus offers counselling for all young people, and this also means that we meet youngsters, each carrying their very own issues. I’ll meet 12-year-old Nikolaj who thinks a girl is cute, and then I’ll meet someone who has been victim of sexual abuse, violence or other types of abuse – maybe on the same day they are making their request to Cyberhus,” Linea Pretzmann explains.

Young people are often alone with their problems

Linea Pretzmann experiences that a lot of children and young people, with whom she is in contact, are struggling all alone. Some of them have tried talking to an adult with no result, and others are carrying issues so heavy that they are afraid to share them with someone else:

“Typically, young people who join our chat feel isolated. They feel like they don’t have anywhere else to go – either because it’s been quite awhile since they have talked to others about their problems, or because they have tried talking to someone but have been rejected. For instance, I was chatting with a girl who, after a while, wrote: ‘But you probably won’t listen either!’ And this is a very common remark from our youngsters. Therefore, our most important task as counsellors is being an adult the youngster can trust – because typically they do not trust other adults,” says Linea Pretzmann.

“It is often difficult for counsellors to reach groups of isolated youngsters – precisely because they feel let down and do not trust adults. So, they find it difficult to open up and share their problems with others,” Linea Pretzmann explains.

[caption id="attachment_13715" align="alignleft" width="203"]Anonymous chat counselling Photo: Gorm Olesen[/caption]

Anonymity is the most important factor

A fair amount of youngsters, who seek out Cyberhus’ chat counselling, are scared of what consequences may arise if they tell others about their problems. This particularly applies to young people who have been victims of violence or abuse from someone they know, for instance a parent. The fear of what might happen to them, or to the person who has done the abuse, is very present. Therefore, it is vital that Cyberhus’ chat counselling is anonymous, Linea Pretzmann deems. She is convinced there would be a large group of young people that counsellors would not be able to reach, had their chat counselling not been anonymous:

“Their greatest fear is what they share will find its way to other people. So, youngsters often begin by writing: ‘You won’t tell anyone, okay?’ And they ask me who I am, and whether I will pass on their information to someone. Usually, we encourage our young people to address their city counsel, but this is really difficult for them because they are not able to remain anonymous, and generally they are scared of what might happen to them or to their parent after telling someone. For these reasons, I believe it is extremely difficult to reach youngsters, who have had horrible experiences, unless we offer anonymous chat – and when interacting in our chatroom there is no risk that we pass on their secret.”

Many youngsters feel guilt and shame about what have happened to them. So, often it is easier for them to write about their problems in a chatroom rather than telling an adult face-to-face.

“It feels taboo-breaking for many of our young people to make contact with a physical counselling. It requires greater investment than that of entering a chatroom where you are able to sit in comfortable surroundings of your own room, and quickly log out again if you feel overwhelmed. For many of our youngsters, the road to a physical counselling therefore feels longer, and they may change their minds several times before they arrive,” explains Linea Pretzmann and stresses: “Thus, the anonymity on Cyberhus is the single most important factor. I am absolutely convinced that precisely the anonymity helps attract so many young people,” Linea concludes.