This study has made the headlines over the past week or so — apparently teens benefit from blogging about their feelings of anxiety and depression. In a randomized controlled trial, those teens with some level of social anxiety who were asked to blog about their feelings were more likely to demonstrate improved mood.
So far, 2012 has not been so kind to me. I have lost my dog (to bone cancer) and partner (to a mutual decision to let go). I find I am able to reach out to friends, but wonder if the sadness becomes too much, if writing will help an adult too? There are studies that substantiate the benefits of journaling — but only if the emotional expression is coupled with cognitive processing. While the blogging study did not consist of a cognitive component, it may be that reader comments supplied that piece, or a reasonable substitute. In the New York Times article referenced above, it was stated that commenters were very supportive and sometimes offered solutions or encouragement.
I hope my own journey forward can benefit from such interaction.
This New York Times article highlights the life and work of danah boyd, self-proclaimed “social media scholar, youth researcher & advocate.” What I like about this article is how boyd shares some of her personal experiences and how those tie into her work and philosophy — that youth going online is not only not necessarily dangerous, but can even be helpful. It can promote political awareness and advocacy. It can reduce isolation. It can save a life. In the article, boyd states that “At the age of 16, I thought I’d be dead by 21,” she said. “I lost 13 classmates to drug overdoses, suicides, accidents and a murder…The Internet was my saving grace. I would spend my teenage nights talking to strangers online, realizing there were other smart kids out there.”
To some extent, her story sounds exactly like the ones adults are terrified by — talking to strangers online in times of pain and trouble. But, for whatever reasons, boyd came out the better after reaching out to an online community.
I am around 10 years older than boyd, so did not grow up with an online world. However, she and I do share some similar experiences in terms of having a troubled adolescence. I wonder if I would have benefited from reaching out to others online, or if I would have been more representative of the general research which states that troubled youth are more likely to develop close online relationships and put themselves in danger as a result. Clearly, I will never know. But I do wish I had options to reach out to others when I was hurting most.
I found this post (please excuse the numerous editing issues, as recognized in its own disclaimer) extremely interesting in the way it challenged how young people use the internet to form community. I have read quite a bit speculating (there is so little research and not much anecdotal information either) on how sexual and gender minority are reaching out online to form community. Most of this information discovers how these youth use the internet to reach out of their isolated communities to find others “like them” in other places.
This is not the case here.
Mary Gray, of the Communication and Culture dept. at Indiana University, gives an example of how rural youth use the internet to strengthen their LOCAL community of LGBTQ youth. It’s a neat case study that makes me wonder how widespread it is.
Another point I appreciate: the fact that these youth feel safer in public venues rather than hidden in their own identities, or online. To me, a supporter of these youth, it is reassuring that they are trying to make themselves visible and part of the community.