Hannah, 12, has had various journals since the early grades of school, mainly as school assignments. But for a little over a year now, she has kept one just for herself. “I don’t write in it every day or anything,” she says, “maybe every week or two. If something happens that makes me mad or sad, or something funny happens that I want to remember, I’ll put it in my journal. Sometimes I write a dream I had.”
Karyn Gordon, a Toronto parent coach, thinks diaries for kids “are a fantastic idea.” Even better, she says, is journalling. What’s the difference? “A diary is more a factual record. When I do coaching for young people, I encourage them to reflect more on what they think and feel — that’s more a journal.”
Breach of trust
The great thing about a journal or diary is that it’s yours and can be whatever you want. If you want to record a weird dream, confess secret fears or fantasize about your future, you can. If you want to just write, “Snow day today. Yay!” nobody is going to tell you that’s not good enough. In fact, nobody is going to see it at all.
Or are they? As long as teens have been keeping journals, pesky little siblings have been finding and reading them. Big no-no, says Gordon. “Have really strict boundaries around that,” she advises. “Diaries are private.”
That goes for parents too, she stresses. “It’s important for parents to say, ‘This is your diary. I promise if I find it I will not read it.’”
But what if you are truly concerned that your child may be in trouble of some kind? Not even then is peeking acceptable, says Gordon: “Don’t read the diary, get your child to a counsellor or doctor.” The problem with taking a peek? Even if you’re right and your child is having difficulty, you can lose the child’s trust by violating her privacy.
Jill Schoenberg, author of Journal Buddies (one for boys, one for girls) and owner of the journalbuddies.com website, agrees. “If you go and dig into that diary, it’s such a breach of trust. Just think how you would feel if someone took your diary and read it! I think if parents want to know what’s going on with their child, they have to find a more creative way of finding out.”
However, Schoenberg does have an alternative to propose. Her journalling system is an interactive approach between parent and child — in other words, the writing is intended to be shared. “I really do think that it makes the whole journalling process much more enjoyable and creative,” she says. The Journal Buddies books also have a strong emphasis on promoting self-esteem, and might be more appealing to kids at the younger end of this age group. Hannah’s not too excited by the idea, though. “For me, the whole point is that it’s private. And what would you say to your parents in a journal that you couldn’t just say out loud?”
Of course, there’s another way that journals get shared these days: the blog. Gordon points to a popular site called livejournal.com. She sees the appeal: “People post what they’re thinking and feeling, which I think in some ways can be healthy for a kid to see: I’m not the only person going through this.” On the other hand, she says, there’s a seductive sense of anonymity on the Internet that can lead anyone, but kids especially, to post things they would never dream of sharing in person. But that sense of anonymity may be misplaced, says Gordon: “A lot of kids take on another identity, but then they’ll share their identity with a couple of friends and all of a sudden their secret identity is not so secret anymore. It’s scary. So it’s really important for parents to talk with their kids about what’s appropriate and inappropriate to post.”
Overall, Gordon favours the good old-fashioned paper journal. “You can carry it with you and write in it anywhere. And you don’t have to worry about it being posted and read by a bunch of people.”
Creative journal ideas
Jill Schoenberg’s journalbuddies.com website includes 89 creative ideas that can bring new energy and inspiration to any journal, private or shared. Some samples:
• Write one word across the journal page that best describes your day.
• Write out the lyrics to your favourite song and paste them into your journal.
• Write a poem.
• Print out a copy of an instant message chat you had with a friend, and paste it into your journal.
• Make a collage of your favourite photos of you, your family or your friends.
• Make a list of your best memories.