In the days before the instantly pinged “OMG Where R U?,” the first words many teenagers composed during their fretful moments were “Dear Diary.” After several paragraphs of spewing onto paper adolescent angst about cafeteria slights, unreciprocated crushes and oversize thighs, the diarist often felt better.
Research has long backed the therapeutic value of diary-keeping for teenage girls and boys. But according to a new study, when teenagers detail their woes onto a blog, the therapeutic value is even greater. Blogging, it seems, can be good for you.
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 the engagement with an online community allowed by the blog format made it more effective in relieving the writer’s social distress than a private diary would be.
To track teenagers’ experiences with blogging, the researchers randomly surveyed high school students in Israel and selected 161 of them (124 girls and 37 boys, a significant gender skew) who exhibited some level of social anxiety or stress. The teenagers, who averaged 15 years old, said they had difficulty making new friends or relating to their existing friends.
And so to the Internet. The teenagers 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. 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.
All of their blog entries were then poured over by four psychologists to determine the authors’ 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 commenters to respond.
Interestingly, the commenters on the blogs were overwhelmingly supportive. “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 e-mail.