If you can still recall your teenage years, you probably remember times when you were both extremely happy one second and then in complete despair the next. In a single moment, your teenage brain felt the shame of a nearly undetectable faux-pas and the immeasurable high of your crush smiling at you.
Teenage years are tumultuous. As a parent, it’s understandable that you are concerned about your teen’s mental health during this difficult stage. But, as a writer and creative, you have a trick up your sleeve: journaling.
The Science Behind the Angst
Random outbursts and sudden personality changes are a normal part of being a teen. In addition to the pressure of seemingly having to figure out their entire life, teenage brains are hardwired to become emotional and a little unpredictable during adolescence. As a parent, understanding what your teen is going through is an important first step toward helping them.
The science behind teenage angst starts in the amygdala. Author and keynote speaker, Mawra Azab, Ph.D., compares the amygdala during adolescence to a “gossiper.” The amygdala spreads bad news and rumors throughout your teen’s brain, making it hard for them to distinguish reality from their anxieties.
The cross-wiring impact of a hyperactive amygdala can shake up your otherwise rational teen and make them develop mountains from molehills. A misinterpreted smile, an ignored wave, or something silly like an “embarrassing” packed lunch can easily send them into a spiral.
Seeing your teen struggle to process these emotions is hard. You remember what it was like, but no amount of sympathy will help your teen gain perspective and see that their friend didn’t mean anything bad when they said they couldn’t hang out.
People have journaled for thousands of years. Poets, playwrights, philosophers, and engineers have all used informal writing to straighten out their ideas and gain clarity on the things that have happened to them.
Before going too far, it’s important to note that journaling is not a substitute for therapy and medical intervention. If your teen is having a rough time, you should get them help as soon as possible. Even if you live in a rural community, resources like TalkSpace and BetterHealth can put them in touch with virtual licensed therapists.
Journaling is effective for teens because it helps them engage in something called “metacognition.” Metacognition is a popular term amongst folks in rhetoric and composition and describes the process of thinking about thinking. This might sound complicated at first, but independent journaling slows down your teen's haywire brain and helps them consciously work through the thoughts that may have been sending them for a loop.
You can even journal together to better support your teen. It’s easy to get frustrated when your teen is emotional, but keeping your own journal can help you stay calm, communicate openly, and listen to them when they’re having a hard time. You don’t have to be completely stoic in the face of their teenage angst, but making the effort to reflect on your conflict via a journal can help you spot your own missteps and create a better plan for the future.
In addition to metacognition, journaling can be a healthy creative outlet for your teen. This is particularly important if your teen suffers from low self-esteem and has a hard time expressing themselves. A journal can be the perfect safe space to explore ideas about themselves and the world around them and can build a budding passion for reading and writing that lasts a lifetime.
Tips To Get Your Teen Interested
Some teens take to journaling immediately while others have a more patchy relationship with recording their thoughts and feelings. You mustn’t pressure your teen into journaling if they don’t want to, but you can subtly encourage them to start journaling if they just need a little nudge.
Start by feeding their desire to read. Reading improves your teen’s writing skills, and getting stuck into a historical novel or biography is sure to spark your teen’s creative interest in writing and journaling.
Of course, not all teens love to read, either. You can incentivize your teen to read more by allowing them to choose their own reading list and rewarding them for finishing a book. If they don’t know what to read, you can suggest BookTubes or encourage them to follow bookworms on TikTok and Instagram.
You can also get your teen interested in journaling by buying them a stylish journal that matches their personality and giving them a private space in which to journal. Most teens feel overburdened with parental pressure as it is, so try to make journaling a space where they are in control.
Sample Journaling Exercises
Some teens like the idea of journaling but quickly lose interest or don’t know where to start. Luckily, you’re there to steer your journaling teen in the right direction. Rather than addressing each day with a “Dear Diary,” entry, you can give your teen creative prompts to choose from:
- If today was a color, what would it be (and why)?
- Who was your first fictional hero? What did they do or say to earn your admiration?
- Pick up a book and copy down the first sentence. Follow that sentence up with your own creative ideas — try not to copy the book’s plot, but use the sentence as a start point.
- Think of a place you vividly remember visiting. Try to describe that place using all five senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
Journal exercises are meant to be low-stakes opportunities to get the ball rolling. You can even experiment with creating journal exercises for one another, but have a few extras up your sleeve just in case your teen isn’t feeling up to the task of inventing an exercise for you both.
Journaling is a great way for your teen to process their thoughts and explore ideas in a safe, private space. You can get your teen interested in journaling by purchasing a journal that they will love and giving them plenty of prompts when they run low on creative juices. Just remember to respect their privacy by avoiding the temptation to snoop.
Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She writes about a variety of topics and spends her free time gardening.