One way to help young adults name and sort out their feelings–and form a stronger sense of self–is to encourage them to keep a journal. Adopted teenagers, in particular, stand to gain greater understanding of their histories through journaling.
Many therapists encourage clients to keep a journal to access and express feelings, observe their thought patterns, and resolve difficult issues. Teenagers in therapy may gain new insight from journal-keeping and sharing their writing with the therapist. But all young people can benefit from spontaneous “free writing” to vent feelings and explore their life history, culture, and attitudes about their families and themselves.
There are academic benefits to journal writing, too. Writing instructors know that uninhibited, unevaluated writing can help reluctant writers relax into a more fluid style, so they often assign ungraded journals along with more organized essays. Some suggest free-writing about school assignments. Getting started in journal form can make writing the actual project far easier. And academic success builds much-needed self-esteem.
“But my child hates writing!”
All the more reason to figure out how to encourage journal writing. Most composition is fraught with criticism and failure–the dreaded red pen. But when a child is writing for himself, there’s no one to criticize the journal and no way to fail at it.
Emphasize that this is your child’s book, and she can do anything she wants with it. If that means cutting out pictures from magazines, fine. Drawing and painting can form part or all of the journal if that is your child’s bent. If she wants to add the lyrics of her favorite songs, great. If he wants to fill a journal with poetry, perfect. Writing to a birth mother or other birth family members can produce a sense of connection even if the message can never be sent.
Since many teenagers are more computer literate than their parents, your child may be receptive to electronic journaling. This could be a simple word-processed document saved on disk or the collecting and saving of e-mails sent to long-distance friends. Your child may even want to build a Web page.
The Issue of Privacy
If your teenager is troubled, you will be tempted to read his journal. In all except life-threatening situations, avoid the impulse. If your teenager knows the journal is private, he can explore feelings too uncomfortable, raw, or extreme to share with you directly.
Use the journal to build a bond with your child by asking him to share parts he’s comfortable with. Many teenagers like displaying their creativity and will welcome the opportunity to show you pages or read you selected parts. One way to encourage sharing is to model it. If you keep a journal, or if you kept a journal while waiting for your adoption to be completed, why not share parts of it with your child.
Journaling is a way to build self-esteem, writing skills, and a stronger sense of self. And it’s a great tool for teenagers struggling through the identity issues of adoption.