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June 07, 2005

Teenage Bloggers

My son is involved in local youth musical theater, and a lot of the high school students who participate have blogs (or at least had blogs, it seems to have been a bit of a fad that died out earlier this year).

The blogs are by turns hilarious, insightful, and frightening. These are kids who are outwardly successful, happy, talented, doing something they love. Yet their blogs reveal a sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled existence that veers wildly between utter bliss and abject depression.

It's not just their theater experience that they blog about, although you do get comments like "this show sucks" and "tack on another shitty show" and "our choreographer's a total idiot" and "my callback sucked the big meat rod" (I can't recall people in my high school being that clever with their vocabulary...).

What is really astonishing is that so many of them seem to go through episodes where they hate themselves. Here's a sample of quotes:

"I'm not having fun with my friends and I'm bored with people around me."

"I want to die so I won't have to deal with my stupid self anymore."

"I feel like I just don't belong to my family anymore."

"I know that I look happy a lot but really I'm not."

"I think nobody will ever be attracted to me again for my entire life."

"I started smoking again, drinking again, becoming somebody I don't like."

"My life is slowly yet surely swirling down the drain."

This stuff is so raw that I feel like a voyeur for reading it, even though it's on a public website. And I really am baffled by the emotions on display. Do so many teenagers go through such episodes of alienation? And remember, these are not (mostly) the stereotypical trenchcoat-wearing, school-avoiding, disaffected teenages. I met the person who wrote "I feel like my family is falling apart, and I will be the first piece gone", and I've met both parents, and seen them all together, and my reaction is WTF?!?!? This doesn't appear to be the distant dad and the nagging mom and the unmotivated child. This looks like a cheerful, outgoing, successful kid, with supportive, helpful, successful parents, and what they write amazes me.

The other fascinating thing is that all this is posted in public, where it can be read by anyone. Unlike other ways that people record or discuss their innermost feelings--diaries, phone calls, instant messaging--blogs leave a permanent, public record. When someone writes about a family member, "Maybe it's my fault for not telling you, maybe that's why you're so fucking naive about it all. But I hate you. And I don't respect you. And I don't like you. And I don't love you anymore"...and also has a home page link to that family member's blog...they have to assume the other person is reading that, right? Maybe it's like the roommates who can't get along and write letters to each other instead of talking. But now instead of just sharing your feelings with one person, you're sharing them with the world, so everyone knows how you feel, and the other person knows that everyone knows how you feel.

When you describe a teacher as "my arrogant, pompous, DICKHEAD english teacher"--what if the teacher reads that? (Somebody did report a rumor that their school administrators were trolling blogs looking for evidence of excessive partying, but that doesn't seem to have stopped anyone from writing about it.) When you write, about a bad relationship "No amount of random hooking up with people...will make me forget it" it's not just you who can see it, or your friends, it's the other person also. It's your parents! I can't imagine how I would feel if one of my children was writing blog entries like some of the ones above.

Remember Harriet the Spy? Remember what happened when they found her diary? That's what's being risked with every blog entry. But nobody seems to mind that. In fact someone reminisced, when the blogging fad died down, "It was nicer when everybody was blogging...yes shit got started, but it was a way for all of us to keep in touch." I guess many people like that tradeoff. As someone else said, "No matter what, I would keep a journal, might as well let everyone read it."

Posted by AdamBa at June 7, 2005 10:42 PM

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Can you post links? Are any of the blogs still active?

Posted by: Chris at June 8, 2005 12:44 PM

Some of the blogs are still actively updated (the sites all still exist, of course). But I'd rather not post specific links. If you search the web for any typical angst-ridden phrase, you will probably find an unhappy teenager's blog.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at June 8, 2005 03:28 PM

Usually it is much more easy to write something down and let it be read, than saying it in person.
Also it is much more easy to share your pain with compleate stranger.
I think these blogs combine both points.

Posted by: Ivan at June 8, 2005 04:24 PM

Although the authors know that it's not only complete strangers. Some of what they write is obviously intended for their friends, somewhere between fishing for compliments and a cry for help: they write "I have no friends and nobody loves me" and then their friends all post comments saying "we're your friends and we love you."

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at June 8, 2005 05:09 PM

So they are looking for more attention. This could be considered normal at this age.

I remember an study that points quite big number of sueciders are actually making an desperate attemt to bring attention to themselfs. This is why they call for help after cutting their vanes or taking pills.

So bloging looks like an better way to keep your mental health. You can even save some psychiatrist bills.

Posted by: Ivan at June 9, 2005 05:22 PM

Speaking of 'dickhead teacher' who can read the blog. We've got a scandal last month: someone from the University has read unpleasant stuff about himself and the girl who wrote that has been thrown out of the University because of this. (The official reason was something about inappropriate behaviour).

That was in Russia.

Posted by: Alex at June 19, 2005 05:27 AM