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Occasionally somebody asks me, "How did you learn to write?" and the answer surprises them: I learned to write by keeping a journal. When I was 8 or 9 years old, a woman in my family's church handed me a journal and suggested I "write every day." It sounded like a good idea, so I did. I filled every page. I wrote through grammar and junior high and high schools. I wrote through college.
Now, I write professionally. I found my "voice" through this practice, but there are many benefits beyond improved writing. I encourage my kids to keep a journal for a myriad of reasons. Here are the top five:
To write well, you must write often. Writing is a skill. Writing is a skill that's lacking in a huge portion of the population, and as a community college English instructor, I can assure you there's a good chance your child is not doing enough writing in her school. Frequent practice of writing without an audience, just writing for fun however you may please, is an excellent way to develop a strong "voice" and sense of enjoyment in writing, which is half the battle in achieving "good writing."
Privacy and a place to "vent" secrets. Since nobody will read your child's journal (don't read your child's journal), he or she will have the gift of privacy, of a place to "vent" his greatest secrets. This process helped me not only deal with emotional turmoil but also get to know myself. I learned to probe deeply into my own brain and heart to learn who and what I am. This is, for obvious reasons, a critically important process during teenage years as children are working to "discover themselves" in relation to the world.
Lifelong healthy habit. Journal writing has been shown to help reduce stress, curb anxiety and assist in coping with depression (source). Though often overlooked, mental health is an area of our well-being that must be attended to. The consequences of not doing so can be dire. While journaling will obviously not guarantee immunity from mental health problems, it is one more tool to help. Why not help your child get started early with healthy mental health habits?
Record of your life to pass down to others. Can you imagine if you had your grandmother's journal? If I had my grandmother's journal, I would have a record of her childhood in the 1920s and '30s in the Pacific Northwest. I would have memories of a woman I miss every day since she passed away in 2008. My childhood journal, kept religiously from the age of 8 until 20, is without debate my most precious possession because of what it will mean someday to my children and grandchildren and beyond. It's truly a gift.
Instant anger remedy. If you have never used writing as a method to deal with rage and anger, well then you're missing out. Give it a shot. The next time you're seeing red, just out of your head in anger, pick up a pen and just write every single thing you're thinking and feeling without fear of anybody reading it. I promise you that when you're done, you will feel calmer and remarkably more "OK." I don't know about you, but this is a tool I'd like my teenager to have, particularly when they're filled with all that angst.
Journaling is a lost art, but it's a precious one, and its benefits span generations.