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Saturday, 4 February 2012

Blogging can help stressed teens







When Lydia (not her real name) started attending a top girls' school six years ago, she experienced loneliness and insecurity.

She felt out of place in school and was weighed down by family problems.

For four years, she cut and even burned herself.


Lydia started a blog because of her struggle with self-injury and depression (which she was diagnosed with after her church pastor asked her to see a psychiatrist) and found it helped her to vent her frustrations.


A new study on anxious or stressed teenage students in Israel said that there is therapeutic value when young people blog about their social-emotional woes.


As reported in The New York Times, research by University of Haifa psychology Professors Meyran Boniel-Nissim and Azy Barak shows that improvements in mood was greatest among bloggers who opened their posts to comments as compared to those who did not allow comments or who kept a traditional diary.


Mr Chua Seng Lee, youth director for Bethesda Care and Counselling Services Centre, said that unlike a private diary, bloggers write with the intention that their entries will be read.


Blogging is like sharing with a friend, just with a delayed response, so it is not surprising that it has more benefits such as greater therapeutic effect, validation of personal feelings and community support.


Echoing this view, teen blogger Nicholas Chan, 16, said he sees his blog as his friend as it can be better to confide online as his sharing may alarm or cause his loved ones to worry.



"Sometimes I just want to rant but I don't want to burden the people whom I know love me deeply, so an animate object is good for that," he said.


While the average age of the 161 students in the Israeli study was 15, Mr Chua said blogging probably benefits distressed college students and young adults too.


But before you rush to pour out your troubles online, there is need for caution. While experts here generally agree that blogging has its benefits, they warn that it may do more harm than good.


Negative comments or lack of positive responses can have damaging impact on some bloggers, said Mr Chua.


When Lydia kept a blog that friends could access, one of her friends who read it was supportive and encouraging.


But she started worrying about how others perceived her feelings and thoughts, and whether they would judge her.


She also felt disappointed sometimes when nobody responded to a cry for help.


While the blogging helped in some occasions when she only needed an outlet for her feelings, at other times it perpetuated the negative feelings.


Positive input


"The way out was to focus on something more constructive or to receive positive input from a friend.


"A large part of the depression I struggled with stemmed from loneliness, so blogging was of hardly any use in relieving that," said Lydia, who is now 18 and waiting for her A-level results.



Mr Chua believes blogging is no substitute for good counselling and professional help.


People with emotional or mental distress should not depend entirely on blog comments, as some could be ill-informed opinions or advice.


Anecdotal evidence suggests that distressed blogging is increasing, said Mr Poh Yeang Cherng, co-founder of Kingmaker Consultancy, which conducts cyber wellness training.


Mr Poh said blogs are not limited by geographical distance, so the writer can share with and invite interactions from a wider online community.


But a disadvantage is security and privacy because information on the Internet is hard to delete completely. Even a restricted blog may not offer privacy because it is possible to reproduce posts in many forms.


Mr Poh calls for more caution among teenage bloggers because, depending on their maturity and understanding of the media platform, they may not have the necessary wisdom to handle private information on blogs.


In addition, there are dangers such as cyberbullying, trolling (the posting of deliberately provocative material) and irresponsible communication on the Internet.


Mr Poh said the effects of a blog post may also be felt years later because social media is increasingly used for background checks for hiring and scholarship interviews.


Even with the use of pseudonyms, the identity of the blogger can be found out.



As for microblog sites like Facebook and Twitter, the pros and cons increase with the size of the social network and amount of data, said Mr Poh.


Dr Ang Yong Guan, chairman of the Action Group for Mental Illness, said the benefit of blogging depends largely on whether the blogger can discern what is good feedback.


He said the Internet has greatly increased the speed and diversity of responses to whatever is expressed online, so it is best if blogs by distressed youth are shared with people who function as their mentors.


"Then they can get proper feedback. Otherwise, it becomes a free-for-all."

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