When I was a teenager, if you had something you wanted to get off your chest, but you didn't want anyone to know, you'd write it in your diary. A diary was a safe place to express sadness, confusion, anxiety, joy and excitement. And being a teenager, all those emotions were swirling inside my head 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 else 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."
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," Pamela Paul wrote in January in the New York Times.
So, how did they discover that? The researchers randomly surveyed high school students in Israel, then picked 161 (124 girls and 37 boys) who "said they had difficulty making new friends or relating to their existing friends," Paul wrote. Average age was 15. The teens were divided into six 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," Paul noted. "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 the authors' relative social and emotional state," Paul wrote. "In all the groups, the greatest improvement in mood occurred among those bloggers who wrote about their problems and allowed commenters to respond." Those 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 Paul.
Royar Loflin (cq), a 17-year-old blogger from Norfolk, Va., didn't participate in the study, but said blogging helps her find peace of mind.
"I definitely write posts in which I talk about being overwhelmed, and it helps me to relax," Loflin told Paul. "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. It really helps put everything into perspective."
Once again I'm reminded, the times they are a changin'!
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)