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Writing promotes well-being and problem solving skills for teens

During the teenage years, the brain is undergoing rapid and significant transformation. As the frontal lobe develops, it provides increasing capability to weigh consequences, plan, predict, control impulses and deal with nuanced group behavior.

Teens are driven to learn, have new experiences and make new social connections. And their emotions are on overdrive as they make sense of the world. The combination of intense emotions and increased cognitive capacity also provides a fertile ground for creativity and self-discovery. For all these reasons, promoting creative writing during these years provides a way for teens to clarify, organize and attend to their thoughts and emotions in an empowering and enriching way.  


Do practice every day

Taking a moment each day to write helps keep us in tune with our thoughts and feelings. Writing things down changes the way we perceive our environment and opens us up to awareness outside of the confines of our internal dialogue. Even writing, “I don’t know what to write about,” can cue us into our mindset and level of distractedness.

Keeping a journal and committing to a quiet time during the day (before bed, first thing in the morning and/or during a break in the day when our energy levels may feel depleted) helps develop the habit of writing. Writing can be energizing in that it helps us look at things differently, but also can be calming because it forces us to clarify the beehive of thoughts inside our minds. 

Do be mindful

Whether you aspire to write a novel or journal about your life, it is important to be mindful while you write. In some ways, the very act of writing is a mindful process, which just means being present and in the moment. Our thoughts may be millions of miles away or lost in a jumble of emotion, but the very act of writing grounds us in the present moment through interaction with the environment around us.

When writing, try to be aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise through the very process of writing. One way to practice tapping into this is to do a sensory inventory. Consider the physical sensations in the environment where you write (temperature, texture of clothing, support from the chair), the smells, the sights (natural or artificial light, colors), any tastes in your mouth and any sounds in the environment. Slowing down to attend to the world around us helps calm a wandering mind. 

Do explore strong emotions

Emotions can be so powerful and strong that logic and reason seem to fly out the window. While this can be detrimental if we are trying to make big decisions or plans, it is okay to write in a highly emotional state.

Writing can help us organize and understand our emotions. It forces consideration. Many times when we feel very strongly about something, it is because it matters a lot to us and we care deeply about it. Emotions are passing states, but they are also extremely informative, and if we can explore them in a rational way, we can learn a lot from them.

Next time you find yourself in a highly aroused state, try to write about it and more likely than not you will be able to find the sweet spot of attending to (not suppressing) emotion in order to inform our reasonable mind. 

Do put pen to paper

Writing longhand as opposed to typing or texting is better for learning in general, and learning from our experiences in particular. It is a workout for our brain because the relative “slowness” of writing by hand engages more brain and motor systems, and is less passive intellectually than typing words. Writing longhand also prevents you from getting distracted and therefore, promotes more mindful writing and engagement.


Do not judge your writing

Observe your own writing like a curious scientist, not a critic. Suspending judgment about the quality of our writing, our thoughts or our feelings helps us understand what is going on in any given situation. Be kind to your written words.

Many teens have few areas in their lives where their performance is not being measured. Enjoying the freedom in taking risks with writing helps perfectionistic teens appreciate the journey on the way to the destination. 

Do not feel the need to write for an audience

So much of teens’ lives are for an audience, if not an imaginary one than the real audience social media provides. Personal writing in a teen’s life provides a space for privacy and intimacy with our own thoughts and feelings. Teens constantly post or express themselves with the expectation of the judgement or appraisal of others. Having a ‘safe’ forum where teens can express themselves for the sole purpose of exploring their own thoughts and feelings is important for growth.

Do not edit

Again, so many aspects of a teen’s life are up for criticism and judgement. While knowing how to edit your work is important, having a time to take poetic license and see where the writing takes you is a freeing process that promotes self-efficacy. 

Do not force it

Putting a number on your writing, such as a certain number of minutes, words or ideas, adds an element of stress or pressure that can hamper the creative process. While practicing a little everyday can help reinforce a routine and habit, keeping it light and unmonetized gives more space for the creative process. Remember that the goal of this type of creative writing is to promote freedom and flexibility in expression.

Jumping cartoon

Today’s teens are faced with a unique onslaught of academic and social pressure. This pressure takes the form of increasingly competitive and expensive advanced education to the wild west of social media and the implications for privacy and relationships in general.

Writing and recording thoughts promotes limber thinking and self-insight, which are essential for resilience. Writing forces us to be mindful of the current moment and experience life more fully. Therefore, encouraging and promoting writing as a way to decompress and disconnect is a way to enhance a teen’s ability to manage and cope with stress, problem solve and navigate interpersonal relationships, as well as develop a stronger sense of self and identity.  

More expert advice about Raising Teens

Photo Credits: Happy Woman Lying On The Grass And Writing In A Notebook by AntonioGuillem via BigStock; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Rachel KitsonPh.D. Licensed Psychologist

Dr. Rachel Kitson obtained her Ph.D. from UNC Chapel Hill and her B.A. from Brown University. Rachel provides therapy to teens, young adults, and adults who are struggling to manage stress and balance in their lives and relationships. She also w...

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