Blogging may help teens with social anxiety improve self-esteem and better relate to their friends, leading to overall improvements in psychological health. In addition, teens who blog may benefit more than those who write about their fears and concerns in a personal diary. These findings were reported January 4 in the American Psychological Association (APA) journal Psychological Services.
Social anxiety disorder, sometimes called social phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder experience excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. They may feel intensely nervous and self-conscious because they fear being judged and criticized by others.
Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health reported in October 2011 that as many as one in eight shy teens may have social anxiety disorder. Teens may be especially susceptible to social anxiety, because they are going through multiple physical and emotional developmental changes.
“Research has shown that writing a personal diary and other forms of expressive writing are a great way to release emotional distress and just feel better,” said the study’s lead author, Meyran Boniel-Nissim, PhD, of the University of Haifa, Israel.
But few researchers have investigated the potential therapeutic effects of blogging. Blogs are personal diaries published on the Internet; they differ from the traditional personal diary because they are interactive. Depending on the blogger’s choice of privacy settings, the blog can be viewed publicly, by selected people, or only privately. Most bloggers allow others to comment on their posts.
Boniel-Nissim’s team randomly surveyed 1,365 high school students in Israel. The researchers identified 161 students who had some level of social anxiety or distress, such as difficulty making friends or relating to current friends. The average age of the participants was 15. Most participants – 124 – were female; 37 were male.
The researchers assessed the teenagers’ self-esteem, behaviours and day to day social activities before and immediately after the 10-week experiment. They were also surveyed again two months after the experiment took place.
The researchers divided the students into six groups. Four groups of students started blogging. Two of the four blogging groups wrote about their social problems; one of these two groups opened their blogs up to outside comments. The other two groups wrote about anything they wanted, with one of the two opening their blogs up to outside comments. Two control groups either had to write a private diary about their social problems or do nothing at all. Students in the writing and blogging groups posted messages at least twice a week for 10 weeks.
Self-esteem, social anxiety, and positive social behaviours significantly improved for the bloggers compared to the groups who wrote private diaries or did nothing at all. Bloggers who wrote about their social difficulties online and who opened their blogs up to comments improved the most. Two months later, the differences were still present.
Although cyber-bullying and online abuse are potential problems, researchers said that almost all responses from participants’ blog messages were supportive and positive. The study’s co-author, Azy Barak, PhD, said: “We weren’t surprised, as we frequently see positive social expressions online in terms of generosity, support and advice.”
Researchers noted that the study had several limitations. There were far more female than male participants. However, when researchers analysed the results separately by gender, they found no statistically significant differences in outcomes.
Other limits to the study were not noted by researchers. These include its small sample size and relatively homogeneous population. It is not clear that study results would transfer to other populations, or to teens in general.
However, the study does provide insight into the potential therapeutic benefit of positive online interactions for teens.
“Research has shown that writing a personal diary and other forms of expressive writing are a great way to release emotional distress and just feel better,” Boniel-Nissim said in a press release. “Teens are online anyway, so blogging enables free expression and easy communication with others.”
American Psychological Association. (2012, January 4). Blogging may help teens dealing with social distress. Press release. Retrieved from www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/01/blogging-teens.aspx
Boniel-Nissim, M., & Barak, A. (2011, December 12). The Therapeutic Value of Adolescents' Blogging About Social–Emotional Difficulties. Psychological Services. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026664 http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/ser-ofp-boniel-nissim.pdf
Burstein M, et al "Shyness versus social phobia in U.S. youth" Pediatrics 2011; 128: 917-925. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/10/14/peds.2011-1434.abstract