Tweens benefit from keeping a diary

By Carolye Kuchta on March 25, 2013
The notion of pencilling one’s private thoughts into a diary has appealed to young people for generations. However, recent research suggests that this type of expressive writing may actually have profound emotional and physical benefits.

Psychologists have long-known that unburdening weighty feelings on paper inevitably leaves one feeling lighter. Tweens in these media-drenched times may particularly crave the privacy afforded by a carefully stored, oldschool paper diary.

Journaling’s greatest emotional gift is self-reflection. As researchers Allison Utley and Yvonne Garza point out, journaling “promotes problem solving, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation.”

Tweens’ sense of self improves when they hear their own voice, become narrators of their own stories and reflect on their hopes and dreams. Studies show that self-reflection can lead to improved grades, moods and resiliency.

Surprisingly, writing expressively can even reduce visits to the doctor. Psychologist James Pennebaker, who pioneered research in this field, reports that expressive writing generally results in improved health and immune function. Recent studies with adults and teens have also shown that expressive writing can reduce the risk of respiratory infection, heal surgical wounds faster, alleviate the symptoms of chemotherapy and reduce insomnia.

Emotional benefits

Researchers believe that writing expressively:
  • provides a sense of control
  • allows us to plan better for the future 
  • reminds us to be grateful 
  • alleviates long-held stress.

Supporting your child through journaling requires embracing a few paradoxes. First, sometimes the best way to support is to step back. Let your children attend to some of their own emotional needs – it encourages resourcefulness. Second, over time, journalling may improve a child’s language skills, but they shouldn’t worry about grammar, penmanship or spelling in a diary. Lastly, diaries do not promote secrecy. They merely promote self-discovery.

Children are often fascinated to learn that writing can have such a big impact on their bodies and minds. No child should ever be pushed into journaling. In fact, even children who love to write will be unlikely to pick up a diary every day. The emotional and physical benefits of journaling can last for a couple months even from writing expressively for five to 15 minutes a day for only three days in a row. Remember, no parent (unless invited) has the right to read a child’s diary. Doing so is a violation of trust and will nearly guarantee that child never writes in a diary again.

So how can you promote journaling in an effective and helpful way? Let your child choose or make a diary that reflects their artistic taste. Next, suggest compelling writing topics. Almost all children want to write once they find a topic that interests them. Finally, give your child 10 to 20 minutes at night to write in their diary. Perhaps you’ll turn out their light, then go write in your own!

Getting started

Journaling at school seldom offers the benefits of expressive writing. Indeed, few of us are motivated by the topic “What I did today.” Here are some more inspirational journal-starters.
  • What are your deepest thoughts and feelings about a wonderful (or horrible) experience you’ve had?
  • What are three things you want to happen in the future, and how will you work toward them?
    • What are your fears?
    • What are your life goals?
    • What are your questions? 
  • Write about something good that came out of a bad experience. 
  • Write about three good things that happened today.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

By Carolye Kuchta| March 25, 2013

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