Did you have a diary growing up? I did. It was a Barbie diary with a little lock in the shape of a heart. It didn't work so well for me. First I lost the key and had to break the lock. Then my dog chewed off the corner. Then I just decided I had nothing important to write about so I gave it to my little sister. As incompetent of a diary writer as I was, there is still some real value in writing down thoughts and feelings--especially when you are in the middle of adolescence and dealing with hormones, dating, zits, parents, and lots of other things that seem so confusing when you're not sure who you really are.
Luckily, our kids have found a place to work through those complexities. They can articulate complex emotions--right at the time they happen. They don't have to really meditate, contemplate, or process what those emotions might mean or where they are coming from. Instead they can turn on their computers and simply spew. Unfortunately, the spewing can make a mess.
One thing you may have noticed is that kids are much more willing to self-disclose VERY deep parts of themselves online. On one hand, that can be good. It becomes a place where they can be honest and take off their masks. On the other hand, it can be bad. When they take off their masks and share their hearts, they often have no idea who is on the other side. They often have no idea who may be reading their Myspace or Facebook blog. The person they are Instant Messaging may be disinterested, disengaged, or distrustful. What feels so good to get off their chest may come back to haunt them in the form of hurtful comments from their friends or enemies or may catapult unhealthy romantic relationships into dangerous territory. I believe our kids are struggling with unhealthy boundaries on a scale that we do not even comprehend.
So, what do we do? First of all, we need to role model healthy self-disclosure. That usually means a deep conversation that begins online should quickly move offline. We tend to be much better equipped to manage our boundaries in a face to face environment. Second, why not encourage kids to engage in the old-fashioned tradition of journaling. That way they can get their feelings out AND maintain control over who might see what they have written. If kids really want to share their heart with someone, challenge them to write it down, then wait a day or two. That gives them time to think and process before they share.
We live in a complex time and our kids need space to work through what it means to grow up. A little encouragement to move offline to work through that process can help them develop healthy boundaries that will ultimately serve them well as they grow into thoughtful young men and women.