Every other Sunday I moderate support chat on TheSite.org. TheSite runs a number of types of chat – I’ve also been an expert for their recent Mindfulness chat. I used to do moderation as part of my role as Advice and Training Manager at YouthNet – but since leaving I have continued in a volunteer capacity.
Support chat is the most common type of chat. For two hours, four evenings a week, the chat room is open for anyone to sign into. Usually it’s community members who come along (young people who are regular chat and discussion forum users) but sometimes it’s a gateway for new people to discover TheSite’s support service. Chatting in real time helps to strengthen the community who gather around the discussion forums. And sometimes regular forum users come into chat under a different name to discuss a more confidential issue.
Support chat is a group peer support space. It allows young people to chat in real time about their difficulties, get peer support from others and give people the benefit of their own experiences and suggestions. Sometimes it is a space for chat and distraction.
It’s a non judgmental and safe space. It is the role of the moderator to keep it that way – even when it gets very busy. Sometimes the chat transcripts can run to 80-100 pages when downloaded into Word. That’s a lot of support for an evening. In general there is a strong focus on managing mental health and wellbeing, although lots of other topics come up too. These can include friendships, relationships, self harm, accessing health services, school and college, online dating, bereavement, music and X Factor (to name a few!).
As a moderator I will be ensuring that everybody in the chat gets support and noone is ignored. This can involve offering suggestions and signposts or encouraging others to offer peer support. I am not there as a counsellor and would never diagnose or tell someone what they should do. Instead I am there to facilitate peer support, to give young people the space to talk and help them decide what courses of action are right for them.
I will be making sure that disagreements are resolved or if they can’t be at that moment, I will be asking those who disagree to continue their discussion outside of the support chat. If a young person is very distressed and their distress is affecting the rest of the group, I will be encouraging and supporting them to access appropriate help elsewhere. I’ll be making sure that everyone follows the guidelines – and if they don’t I’ll be gently warning them of the implications of ignoring them. I don’t often have to freeze or ‘kick’ chatters out – but I have those tools in case someone is being purposefully disruptive and stopping others from receiving support.
Another part of my role is supporting newer trainees. Moderating a fast moving and sometimes heavy going support chat takes skill and practice and new volunteers will shadow and work with staff or experienced chatters for over six weeks before moderating alone. I was involved in developing parts of the chat mod training when working at YouthNet and enjoy acting as a mentor for others now.
Moderating chat can be quite an intense experience – hence Helen, Head of Engagement and Support at YouthNet coining the phrase
The first rule of chat club – do NOT talk to me while I’m chat modding!
Luckily my boyfriend understands to leave me alone when chat modding – and often brings me tea or food throughout. My collie is not quite as understanding and often comes to lay his head on my knee or push a soggy tennis ball into my lap!