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Episode 21: Teen Talk App with Franny Reynolds

Franny Reynolds is a Teen Advisor for Teen Talk App. Teen Talk App provides a free, anonymous, safe space for teens to request support from trained peers and learn from others with similar experiences. Franny Reynolds is a senior at Santa Monica High School and has been a Teen Advisor for over a year.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Nati Rodriguez [01:10] 
Well, thank you so much. I’m really excited to learn more about Teen Talk. Can you tell us how the app works?  

Franny Reynolds [01:18] 
Yes. So, it’s all remote. A user can come on the app. It kind of looks like Twitter, from my knowledge. It’s really easy to use. You just make a post. You can talk about whatever you want – if you’re having a bad day, struggling with anxiety, or just want someone to talk to. You create a post, and an advisor will come on between the hours of 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. We go on different shifts, and it’s all anonymous, so there’s no worry about a friend seeing it or a parent. No one will know. It’s a completely judgmental-free space; you just talk about whatever you want. 

Nati Rodriguez [01:53] 
Great. What are some of the things that you’re seeing come up that teens talk about on the app?  

Franny Reynolds [02:00] 
The four biggest topics we see are about relationships, whether that’s romantic or platonic – like friendships – depression, abuse, and suicide.  

Nati Rodriguez [02:11] 
Wow, those are the big ones. What is that experience like? Let’s say someone messages and you’re responding as an adviser, is this an ongoing conversation and what happens next?  

Franny Reynolds [02:24] 
So typically, us advisers will come onto a post – it will either be a new post, or it can even have started a month ago. They typically are within a couple of weeks. I’ve seen ones that happen right away, or I’ve seen ones that has been going on for a couple of weeks, but it’ll tell you the starting date of the thread. As an advisor, we can scroll through the whole thread, reading from the very first advisor’s response and the entire conversation, up until your newest response. So, us Advisors get to see what has been talked about, the different approaches being used, and what new information we can incorporate to better help the user.  

Nati Rodriguez [03:05] 
Got it. The thread is based on the topic, not necessarily the teen and the adviser being connected continuously?  

Franny Reynolds [03:16] 
Yes. We have a color system that shows the different categories of the topic of the conversation so we can know what it’s going to be about. If a post is more urgent, it will be highlighted so that you can get to it quickly.  

Nati Rodriguez [03:33] 
Got it, that makes sense. Thank you. Can you share about how you prepared to be a Teen Advisor?  

Franny Reynolds [03:40] 
Yes, the training was through Zoom because I did it in the time of the pandemic. It was a few hours every day for a couple of weeks. We have a manual that we use as a guide throughout these couple of weeks, where the trainer will guide us through exercises, one-on-one, partner work, group work, and you learn about a lot of different mental health topics, what mental health is, more specifics, like anxiety, coping mechanisms. We even practiced our own coping mechanisms at the end of each day, and I even use a lot of them throughout my life now because they’re really helpful.  

Nati Rodriguez [04:22] 
That’s great. Would you mind sharing one of those coping mechanisms that you’ve learned that has been really useful for you 

Franny Reynolds [04:29] 
Yes, I find it very helpful for myself sometimes, mostly to help others. I know a lot of people that struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. One really helpful mechanism I learned was to help for grounding; I think it’s called a grounding technique, where you list different things you can see, hear, smell, and touch. We don’t usually do taste because most of the time you’re not eating or anything during an anxiety attack. Whether you’re with the person or texting them – I’ve helped someone remotely before – you just ask them what are five things you can see, and then they’ll name somethings. And it really helps focus on something other than whatever has triggered the attack because then you’re calming down your nervous system and just focusing on something other than whatever is overwhelming you at the moment. 

Nati Rodriguez [05:21] 
That’s a good one. That’s a good takeaway for us. Can you tell us about what got you interested in becoming a Teen Advisor and what that work will look like going forward as you approach graduation? Are you graduating this year?  

Franny Reynolds [05:36] 
Yes, I am. A friend of mine mentioned it at a soccer practice and I was like, “Wow, that sounds really interesting. I want to learn more about mental health.” 

During the pandemic, I myself struggled with mental health issues. It was really hard for me to be away from friends because I’m a very extroverted person and so it really helped me to see other people’s experiences and learn about how everyone experiences life differently. It’s good to remember that everyone has things going on that you don’t always see and so it’s always important to keep in mind that someone may be struggling, and whether they are asking for help or not, you can be there for them.  

Nati Rodriguez [06:19] 
That’s great. It’s good that you are aware of this opportunity and that it fits in with your personality and what would be helpful for you as well.  

Nati Rodriguez [06:36] 
Given everything that we’re hearing about the mental health crisis among teenagers, and even adults, what has the usage of the app been like in the last two years given that you started doing the pandemic and now students are back in school but still experiencing some of those effects? Who’s using it? Can you talk about who can use the app?  

Franny Reynolds [06:58] 
Yeah, we mostly see posts from people aged 13 to 18. I think the cut off is 18 mostly just because we don’t want anything inappropriate, seeing that there are children as young as 13 that can see these posts. If there’s something that could trigger them, we don’t want to overwhelm anyone with someone else’s issues because they can look at each other’s posts too. Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of users; we have an average of about 200 daily users, 6,000 total posts. We’ve had 4,280 users post multiple times and we have users in over 100 countries, so a lot of different people. Recently we’ve also had many Advisors throughout the US because it was more remote before, but our training has allowed teenagers all throughout the US to be able to become Advisors.  

Nati Rodriguez [07:52] 
That’s great, and that’s amazing that it’s available to students all over the world. How did they hear about this app? It seems like every kid should have something like this to support them through these moments.  

Franny Reynolds [08:03] 
Yes, we have an Instagram and a new website. We actually have 27,000 Instagram followers, which is awesome. I heard about it through my school, at Santa Monica High, the Teen Talk supervisors used to in the past come talk about it, before the pandemic, and now sometimes we try to do some in-person events, and we advertise the trainings for Advisors as well. For users, the app is in the App Store and Google Play, you can do it too. A good way to learn about it is through our Instagram and website, which we’ve been spreading more now that it’s out there.  

Nati Rodriguez [08:45] 
Got it. For somebody wanting to sign up, that’s between the ages of 13 and 18. What’s the sign-up process like? 

Franny Reynolds [08:56] 
Oh, you don’t have to sign up for anything. I’m pretty sure you just get the app, and you can start doing it.  

Nati Rodriguez [09:02]
Oh wow. So, it’s pretty easy.  

Nati Rodriguez [09:48] 
You mentioned earlier that students can see each other’s posts; can they respond to each other as well?  

Franny Reynolds [09:55] 
No, only Advisors can respond to posts but it’s helpful for other users to look through what someone else is going through because if you have a similar situation, it can be really helpful to see, “oh wow this person was really helped by this coping mechanism or they tried something new, and they really helped them, so maybe I can try that now.”  

Nati Rodriguez [10:15] 
That’s great. It’s a good way to get a whole bunch of tools. It’s not necessarily crowdsourced, but you get an experience of what other people are going through all around the world. Can you talk about your own experience as it relates to accessing mental health and wellness support in your school?  

Franny Reynolds [10:37] 
Yes, I’m very fortunate to have a lot of mental health resources on my campus, aside from being able to learn about Teen Talk. We have a health and wellness center and different groups on campus. I think we have something called the SWAG, which is the Samohi Wellness Advisory Group – I love the acronym. They help promote mental health awareness on campus. We have multiple therapists that you can drop in and talk to and they can help connect to more longer-term help as well. It’s been really nice, just very reassuring that we have somewhere on campus that you can go to if you need help and that it doesn’t have to be a big thing because sometimes people don’t want everyone knowing and so it can be really nice for it to just be on the down low.  

Nati Rodriguez [11:29] 
Sure, that’s great that your campus has those resources, especially now. Given your experience so far, what advice would you give teenagers to improve their mental health? So before they even need an app or to reach out to a therapist, what can they do on a daily basis or anything to help support them?  

Franny Reynolds [11:52] 
I’ve really found that talking about anything that bothers you whatsoever; it could be the smallest thing. Talking to a friend, family member, teacher, anything that’s on your mind; it can be so relieving to just like get that little thing off your shoulders, whether it’s saying it out loud or you can journal. I’ve heard journaling is a very relaxing, relieving, stress relieving process that can help you just get all those thoughts out and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. It’s out there, you don’t have to think about it. Either you can go back to it, or you can just move on. It’s really good to just keep a good outlook, and it’s also good to keep an outlook that everyone’s struggling sometimes; it can be big or small and we’re all going through this together and there’s always someone to help you.  

Nati Rodriguez [12:45] 
Thank you. I’d love to hear just about what your other interests are. You’re in high school, last year as a senior. What other things are you involved in at school?  

Franny Reynolds [12:57] 
I am a huge marching band fan. I have been in it for four years. I’m the section leader of the trombone section. It is so much fun. Joining my freshman year, it’s just really been like a second family. I was worried – when you’re younger you’re like, oh, there’s all those high school clicks but really, it’s just like a really nice community, very supportive, provides discipline, a safe space, and a really good escape from school and life and everything because you get in there and you just focus on your music. It’s hard to explain, but the part where you actually move around – we call it drill – and so you’re learning your drill and your music. Everyone’s doing their own thing and coming together, and it’s really just a beautiful process. You have this wonderful piece in the end that you get to perform, and we compete together. Our competitions are on Saturdays, and it’s a really long day, but at the end of it, you just feel so good about your performance and being with all your friends, and I just love making music and being with friends.  

Nati Rodriguez [14:05] 
Yeah, I can feel that. Thank you for sharing that. 

Nati Rodriguez [14:29] 
Anything else that you’d like to share about your interests?  

Franny Reynolds [14:34] 
I’m really interested in the medical field, and I joined my school’s premed club, which I think was made last year by one of my friends. We’ve been discussing different types of professions in the medical field, whether it’s like dentistry or pediatrician, there’s lots of different things you can do. Last year, we did CPR training together, so all of us are CPR certified. Over the summer, I did a UCLA premed program, which was really interesting. I learned how to suture. I learned how to scrub. They taught us all different things because everyone wants to do different things, so they teach you a very wide spectrum of medical experience. It was really interesting just to be in the hospital environment, because I find it really exciting. Lots of patients and doctors and staff and just everyone is always doing something really exciting.  

Nati Rodriguez [15:36] 
Yeah, I’m picking up on a thread of serving others and taking care of others. That’s wonderful. What’s next for you after high school?  

Franny Reynolds [15:50] 
Hopefully, I’m going to college. I’m in the midst of all the applications. Everything is very exciting and overwhelming process. I’ve already gotten into somewhere so that’s exciting. But I hope to go to a four-year college, and then I’ve heard a lot of different things from people that are currently in medical school or out of medical school. There’s a lot of different paths to go, and I know a lot of people change their minds at many points in those paths. So, who knows whether I’ll take a gap year or go straight to med school, but I know it’s going to be very exciting, and hopefully I can do some traveling at some point.  

Nati Rodriguez [16:29] 
Well, congratulations on everything that you’ve done up to this point to get you where you’re headed next, I’m sure it’s going to be really fantastic. What kind of places would you like to travel to?  

Franny Reynolds [16:40] 
I went to France this summer with my school’s French trip, and it was so amazing. I would definitely like to go again and maybe experience more of the medical realm, maybe do a fellowship when I’m older or something during medical school. I’d like to go to somewhere else more rural, maybe. I’ve been to Guatemala, and it was a wonderful experience. I don’t know where else. I feel like I just want to get a really rich experience of somewhere where you really immerse yourself. I hope to do a study abroad program sometime in college where I could go…some of the different places I saw mentioned in different colleges I’m applying to were Morocco and France and lots of different interesting places that have such wide varieties of culture and everything just is so rich and interesting, and I can’t wait to experience that.   

Nati Rodriguez [17:36] 
Yes, it’s very exciting to hear you talk about it. It’s an exciting time in your life, and we’re happy that you’re here sharing this with us.

Nati Rodriguez [18:07] 
What are you reading, watching, or listening to these days?  

Franny Reynolds [18:10] 
I listen to a lot of different types of music. Classical is probably my favorite. I am a music nerd. I listen to a lot of Beethoven and Mozart. I often have my concert, band and orchestra pieces on my playlist. We’re doing The Planets right now, so Jupiter is in my top listen to currently. I love Marvel movies, so I’m very excited for all the new projects coming out. Can’t wait till Wakanda Forever comes out very soon. And I don’t know. I haven’t been watching a lot of television recently, but I love reading. Fantasy books are my favorite.  

Nati Rodriguez [18:54] 
What is the latest fantasy book you’ve read?  

Franny Reynolds [18:56] 
That’s a good question. I have a list, but I can’t remember. I was reading a series. I think it’s a Y.A. series called Vampire Academy so if you like supernatural for those teens out there, it’s a good one.  

Nati Rodriguez [19:10] 
Thank you for sharing that. Our audience is mostly teachers from around the world, and I’m curious if there’s anything that you would like to share with teachers coming from your experience as a student, as a teen advisor, your achievements in music, and your following a pre-med path. Anything that you’d like to share with our teacher audience?  

Franny Reynolds [19:33] 
My experience going throughout a lot of school, I’ve noticed that as you get older, the teachers become more understanding, and I think it’s because they have a lot of very wise teachers for the older kids, because we’re the ones who go through a lot. I mean, everyone goes through a lot. Once you get into junior and senior year, everyone has so much stuff going on. I think my favorite teachers have been the ones that really understand that there are things out of our control and out of their control, and sometimes you just have to take a break. I have a teacher who does something called a No Bones Day, which I think is a reference to a TikTok that I’m not quite familiar with, but I think it basically means that I need to relax today, and I don’t feel like doing work, which is really nice because sometimes teachers need a day off too. We should acknowledge that all of us have things going on. Teachers are really busy people, and they make time in their schedules to do all their fun things too. As teenagers also need a break sometimes to do our fun things as well.  

Nati Rodriguez [20:41] 
Those are very wise words and I’m sure our audience will appreciate that and the acknowledgement and recognition that we’re all working hard to be here and be the best we can every day. And some days we need one of those days. Alright, anything else Franny, that you would like to add that I didn’t ask you about?  

Franny Reynolds [21:05] 
I just like to say I hope everyone realizes that there’s always help out there and I have my mom always teaches this motto that there’s always a solution and so you may be in a pickle or struggling and there’s always a way out and there’s always someone to help you. The light at the end of the tunnel, it’s in your future. It’s coming.