Blogging is often considered self-indulgent and the Internet a threat to teenage mental health. But a new study finds that adolescents with social problems who blog may benefit from the added social connectivity.
Previous research shows that simply writing about personal misfortune can be healing— and that breaking down a traumatic experience into a coherent narrative is often a key part of recovering from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other after-effects of trauma, like depression.
The new study, however, finds that online writing may be even more helpful, at least for teenagers who feel isolated and have difficulty socializing. Israeli researchers studied 161 teens (aged 14-17) who were experiencing significant social anxiety and distress in interacting with their peers. Most of those who agreed to participate were girls but 37 boys also took part.
The teenagers were assigned to one of six groups. Four of the groups blogged at least twice weekly: one group wrote about their social problems in a blog open to comments, another wrote about those issues in a closed blog, a third wrote about general topics on an open blog and the fourth wrote similarly for one that was closed. All of the blogging groups used nicknames and were instructed not to reveal their real names online. The final two groups included one that wrote a private diary on a computer about social difficulties and a control group that wasn’t assigned to write at all.
All of the writing groups showed significant improvement after ten weeks of blogging, as rated by their own reports of feeling better and socializing more and by experts who did not know their group assignments. The bloggers said they were more self confident, had better self-esteem and were emotionally more comfortable with social situations than they had been before they began writing. Those who blogged on sites that included comments, however, benefited most, and reported feeling less social distress, gaining more self-esteem and engaging in more social activity in real life. The improvements continued two months later, at the study’s last follow up.
The authors write, “It seems that the characteristics of the Internet and the qualities of expressive writing can be maximized by blogging. A blog can provide the unique combination of a comfortable space for self-expression, one that is both intimate and authentic, with an interactive social environment that is popular among adolescents.”
The results suggest that the Internet has an enormous potential to help socially awkward teens recognize that the social structure of their high school isn’t the only one that’s important in their lives, and that even if they feel alone in their interests or experiences, there are others out there who share them. As a former geeky teen myself, I suspect having such an outlet would have been enormously helpful in getting me to this awareness.
As some recently tragic cases of cyberbullying have shown, the instant and widespread reach of social media isn’t always a good thing, but I’m glad to see the net’s positive social potential— not just OMG! Addiction! Porn! Isolation!— is finally being studied.
The research was published in Psychological Services by Meyran Boniel-Nissen and Azy Barak of the University of Haifa.