How today’s screen-savvy teens prefer to tell dear diary

Despite living in the age of social media, more teenagers than 20 years ago choose to reveal all in a pen-and-paper diary. Sheena Hastings reports.

MOST adults did, at some point in their teenage years, pour their hormonally unbalanced thoughts and feelings into a diary that they kept hidden away from the prying eyes of parents and siblings.

For many of us who were too fickle to commit properly to a steady relationship with a diary, it was more of a fling thing – a safety valve we used just when we felt particularly fat, spotty and unfanciable or our friends/parents were being absolutely horrible, and we thought we were about to die from misery because no-one understood us.

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A few people – mostly girls, it has to be said – started a diary when they were in the pits of 13-year-old despair and have continued ever since. When everyone else let them down, Dear Diary never did. As well as a safe place to deposit all kinds of private bile, sorrow and many other feelings that rock the see-saw of pubescent life, the diary never talked back or disagreed.

Diaries are the gold dust of history, from the ancients to modern politicians whose journals often give the lie to the public statements they have made to toe the party line. But teenage diaries have a special place.

On the one hand you have the Diary of Anne Frank, the chronicling of a young life emblematic of many thousands of others cut tragically short.

On the other there are hilarious fictitious journals, like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 and 3/4 by the incomparable Sue Townsend, or Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, which Louise Rennison loosely based on her own teenage years on a Leeds council estate.

The first looks at wider issues through the eyes of the self-important, pretentious Adrian. Rennison concentrates on the hormonal urges of Georgia Nicolson at the confusing crossroads of childhood and womanhood.

Audiences for both span all ages – and the adults are not just there for the humour and great writing. They’re hoping to learn something about what’s going on in impenetrable minds of their own offspring.

Suprisingly, new research shows that in 20 years the use of an actual paper and pen diary has increased among British teens – even though they have grown up in the age of social media as modern confessional.

The survey found that 83 per cent of today’s girls aged 16 to 19 keep a conventional diary, up from 69 per cent in the 1990s.

While 71 per cent say that they post only some of their feelings and thoughts on social media, most teenage girls (95 per cent) keep their deepest emotions out of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the research for TV channel E4 found.

As well as not revealing crushes, problems at home, depression and body image issues on such sites, more than half say that they exaggerate on social media.

More than three-quarters say they worry about posting thoughts and feelings online, and 64 per cent feel that writing in a private diary makes them feel better.

The research was commissioned to tie-in with My Mad Fat Diary, a new 1990s-set TV series for Monday nights, based on the real-life teenage diaries of Rae Earl, who kept diaries about being a boy-mad Morrissey fan during her teens in Lincolnshire.

Earl said: “As long as young people still feel lonely, fat, mad, sad, happy, hopeless, good or bad they will always need a place where they can record their thoughts and work things out in total privacy.

“Blogs and social networks like Twitter and Facebook 
might come and go, but teenagers will always retreat to a private diary.”

Anita Naik, Agony Aunt at Teen Now magazine, added: “Alhough it may seem strange in this social media world that so many are turning to pen and paper, the online world populated by their peers is often just another place where they must be seen to fit in, rather than being honest.

Cary Cooper, professor of occupational psychology and health at Lancaster University, said: “It sounds like teenagers are wary of all the bad PR around revealing too much on social media. It’s interesting that so many girls are keeping a diary, but not boys. A diary is a fantastic way of expressing yourself, and it’s healthy for you physically and mentally. It’s a way of cataloguing your experiences and reflecting on them.

“The research fits in with what we know about girls having more emotional intelligence than boys. They are better at expressing emotions, whether by writing, talking about them or crying. Boys generally can’t express themselves in these ways, but how can you come to a solution for problems if you can’t express them in the first place?”