Therapeutic Value of Adolescents’ Blogging About Social-Emotional Difficulties
Why do young people use social media and the Internet? One reason is to keep up with the news, particularly about entertainment and celebrities. Another is to express themselves. Though there are worries about the cognitive effects of high levels of Internet use, some degree of “living in public” may actually be beneficial for emotional health.
A 2012 study published in Psychological Services, “The Therapeutic Value of Adolescents’ Blogging About Social-Emotional Difficulties” (PDF) examined the effects of anonymous blogging by conducting a controlled experiment with a group of teenagers. The researchers, based at the University of Haifa, divided the teens into six groups: One that kept no diary; another that kept an offline computer diary; and four blogging groups that wrote either with a public comment function enabled or disabled, and either about their own experiences or about anything they wished. Those in the four blogging groups were free to publicize their blog or not, as they desired, as long as they maintained anonymity.
The study’s findings include:
- All four of the blogger groups showed a significant positive treatment effect compared to the non-blogging and control groups, and their “level of distress” diminished. “The spontaneous and anonymous interpersonal interactions available in cyberspace may alleviate users’ self-perceptions and negative emotions and, consequently, contribute to their ability to cope with difficulties in their offline environment.”
- Teenagers who blogged about their experiences showed more improvement in their social and emotional health than those who did not blog: “This finding is consistent with the research literature that presents repeated evidence of the positive impact of expressive writing on emotional relief.”
- Among the bloggers, those who blogged with open comments enabled — inviting outside feedback — showed more improvement than those who did not, and those who wrote about themselves showed more improvement than those who did not.
- The number of males in the study group was relatively small, so potential gender-based differences in outcomes were not analyzed: “Gender was not treated in the current study as a statistical moderator.”
The authors conclude: “Self-exposure, typical in cyberspace in general and in blogging in particular, could serve as an important factor in building social relationships and in coping with loneliness, shyness, social anxiety, and other conditions that inhibit healthy, satisfactory social connections. An adolescent who feels socially rejected in his or her physical environment can exploit the virtual space that he or she manages as an equal; doing so, the Internet user can create him/herself anew, improve self-image, increase self-confidence, and gather friends — factors that may then be reflected in his or her physical surroundings.”
Tags: mental health, youth
Read the issue-related National Geographic article titled "Beautiful Brains."
- What key insights from the article and study should reporters be aware of as they cover teen issues?
Read the full study titled “The Therapeutic Value of Adolescents’ Blogging About Social–Emotional Difficulties.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Read the press release that accompanied the study, "Blogging May Help Teens Dealing with Social Distress."
- If you had written an article based only on the press release, what would have been its main shortcoming(s)?
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?