If you want to write your feelings out, do it online. Public journals are even better for teenagers’ mental health than the traditional private pad of paper used to store personal thoughts, according to a new study.
Teenagers who use blogs to share their thoughts about social stress find the activity therapeutic, especially when they receive emotional support from online commenters. The University of Haifa study took Israeli teenagers with social anxiety or feelings of detachment and gave six groups different methods of therapy. Two groups wrote online about their social problems and anxiety; one’s writings were open to comments, while the other’s were not. Two other groups also wrote on blogs, but they were free to discuss anything. Again, one of those groups allowed comments. Teens in the fifth group wrote their diaries on computers, not open to the public, and the final group did not keep journals.
The treatment group that blogged about social and emotional stress and allowed comments showed the most benefits.
This seems counterintuitive. Schools and parents struggle with how to prevent and punish cyberbullies, a topic constantly in the news, and other research accuses Facebook of contributing to depression. But on the blogs in this study, most comments were positive. The authors suggest that the interactive yet anonymous aspect of blogging is beneficial:
[T]he spontaneous and anonymous interpersonal interactions available in cyberspace may alleviate users’ self-perceptions and negative emotions and, consequently, contribute to their ability to cope with difficulties in their offline environment (Kraut et al., 2002). Furthermore, self-exposure, typical in cyberspace in general and in blogging in particular, could serve as an important factor in building social relationships and in coping with loneliness, shyness, social anxiety, and other conditions that inhibit healthy, satisfactory social connections.
And so maybe the semi-personal nature of an anonymous blog (not the constant curation of the perfect Facebook page) attracts the emotional support necessary to pull a teenager out of social anxiety.
The researchers stress, though, that the research only applies to teenagers, and that the blogs were formed as part of the study. So, although blogs can be therapeutic for teens struggling socially, they may not be using the Internet in that way in their real (virtual) lives.
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