When I was a teen if you had something you really wanted to get off your chest, but didn’t want anyone to know, you’d write it down in your diary. It was a safe place to express sadness, confusion, anxiety, joy and excitement. And being a teenager, all those emotions were swirling inside my head pretty much all the time. For some strange reason, I always felt better after writing it all down, clicking the lock shut, and placing the diary in a spot I thought no one would look. My musings were usually personal thoughts that I didn’t think anyone would understand anyway. In fact, I thought Bob Dylan captured my anxiety pretty well when he sang “If my thought-dreams could be seen - They’d probably put my head in a guillotine.”
Today’s kids are much more likely to share their “thought-dreams” over the Internet in a personal blog, and a new study says that could actually be very helpful.
Research has long supported the therapeutic value of diary keeping and journaling for teens and adults. But now, researchers suggest that blogging might even be better.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Services and conducted by Meyran Boniel-Nissim and Azy Barak, psychology professors at the University of Haifa, Israel, found that engaging with an online community was more effective in relieving the writer’s social distress than a private diary would be.
So, how did they discover that? They randomly surveyed high school students in Israel who said they had difficulty making new friends or relating to friends they already had. Researchers selected 161 teens to participate in the study. The average age was around 15 and there were 124 girls and 37 boys.
The teens were then divided into 6 groups. The first two groups were asked to blog about their social difficulties, with one group asked to open their posts to comments. The second two groups were asked to blog about whatever struck their adolescent fancy; again, with one group allowing comments. All four groups were told to write in their blogs at least twice a week. As a control, two more groups were told to keep either an old-fashioned print diary or to do nothing at all.
Four psychologists reviewed the blog entries to determine each writer’s relative social and emotional state. In all the groups, the greatest improvement in mood occurred among those bloggers who wrote about their problems and allowed people to respond.
People who responded offered positive feedback and support, and that appears to be the key.
“The only kind of surprise we had was that almost all comments made by readers were very positive and constructive in trying to offer support for distressed bloggers,” Dr. Barak wrote in an email to the New York Times.
Royar Loflin, a 17-year-old blogger from Norfolk, Va., who did not participate in the study, says that blogging helps her find a little peace of mind. “I definitely write posts in which I talk about being overwhelmed, and it helps me to relax. People will write in the comments, ‘I remember when I was in your shoes’ ” and ‘Don’t worry — you’ll get through the SATs!’ and it’s wonderful,” she said. “It really helps put everything into perspective.”
Once again I am reminded -The times they are a changing.