Tweens benefit from keeping a diary

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.

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