Helping Your Teens Build the Habit of Journaling
Whether we like it or not, we are finding ourselves living in unprecedented times. In just a matter of weeks, words like pandemic, coronavirus, COVID-19, quarantine, and social distancing have become part of our everyday vocabulary. And whether we admit it or not, it’s likely that most of us have felt a certain degree of fear or anxiety as we let our minds wander to the what-ifs and the what-mights.
As a Christian, I know my security and abundance come from Christ and Christ alone. While we do need to remain informed, it can get overwhelming reading the headlines of mainstream media.
The thought came to me the other day that I should be encouraging my teens and myself to be more mindful of journaling about the times we are experiencing. I hope this will serve two purposes.
- To keep our focus on Jesus: I never want to encourage fear to gain a foothold in my life. Yes, I can worry at times, but rather than allow myself to ruminate on worries, I try process through it so I can get my focus back on Jesus. Worry just grows into something bigger when kept to myself. Naming the fear or lie immediately minimizes its power over the mind. Replacing that fear or lie with a confirming truth from God’s Word and meditating on that truth will renew the mind. As a Jesus-follower, we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and we do not have a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), but we have to actively seek God’s Word and stay close to Him.
- To document this unique experience: In just a few short weeks, our kids are living through critical days that will be marked down in the history books and added to the timelines. I thought it would be valuable for them to have a written testimony describing the world-wide events surrounding COVID-19 and how they perceive these events at this time in their lives. In our family, we always talk about the importance of documenting our story so we can be able to share it with the future generations. It struck me that our teen girls are living though a time that will be talked about for many years to come, so why not have them record the details in a personal journal.
How will this look?
When I suggested this idea to the girls, who are now in 9th and 10th grade, I prefaced it with the idea that it would be a great assignment to add to their Health & Nutrition course. The Apologia curriculum that we are using this year has many practical assignments such as studying individual temperaments, tracking sleep patterns, exercise, and diet, and encouraging a 5-hour project of something they’ve never done before. Some of the modules also raise awareness of mental health issues, imploring students to be mindful of this. Journaling is a healthy way to process thoughts and emotions. I also explained to the girls that someday their kids and grandkids could be asking them about what it was like to experience a worldwide pandemic. Wouldn’t it be valuable to be able to look back and see what their 15 and 16-year-old selves were thinking?
Even though I am asking the girls to take time to journal, I will not be reading their entries. I want them to write as candidly as they can. I’m sure we all can admit, we write with a much different tone if we think no one will read it. I’ll let them process on paper or keyboard, and then we can have ongoing conversations as a family.
Modes of journaling:
Their entries can be written in one of many ways. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites:
- A real paper notebook: There is nothing quite like writing in a real journal with real paper pages. From a basic college-ruled notebook to a classic hardback journal, the options are endless. Some of our favorite journals are made by Baron Fig. Their journals are quality hardcover notebooks that lay flat when opened and come in a variety of appealing colors. The pages inside can be lined, blank, or dot grid (for those who prefer to bullet journal). Oh, and I should mention for those pen lovers out there, they also sell beautiful rollerball pens with ink refills, in case you need a little extra inspiration as you write.
- Apple Notes app: The Notes app that is included in any Apple iOS has the ability to create folders which makes for an easy way to group notes. For example, you can create one folder called “Journal” and then create a new note within that folder for each entry. If you titled the note with the date, using YYYY/MM/DD format, it would be easy to organize and group by year if you ever decided to save your entries in another format down the road.
- Day One Journal: This is a simple journaling app that I’ve been using for a few years now. From once in a lifetime to everyday moments, I can easily add pictures from my device’s camera roll to go with any entry. Another great feature of this app is that tags can be created for each entry. For example, I have created a tag for each one of my children. That way, when I create an entry about a milestone, I can then add a tag for whoever it was about.
- Ulysses: This app is a great writing tool to be used and synced across all Apple devices. Again, it is easy to create groups that act the same as folders do in the Notes app, and has many more powerful features making it a sure winner! (In fact, this is the app that I used to write this blog post.)
- Good Notes: If you like the idea of reducing paper and going digital but also like the feel of putting pen to paper, Good Notes may be the app for you! Basically, you can totally customize your own digital journal right within your iPad. Choose landscape or portrait, a solid color or colorful design cover, and the paper choices… blank, dot grid, ruled, grid, your pick! Then you simply use your Apple Pencil and get writing! It takes a little getting used to writing on an iPad screen, but once you get the hang of it, you never have to wonder where you misplaced your journal. It’s all right there in your device!
Journaling prompts for getting started:
If you’re just starting to journal for the first time, sometimes it’s helpful to give a preview of what’s going on in your life at the moment. Then you’ll have a reference point to look back on. Also, I have made a free printable PDF that your can request below. It has all the journaling prompts on one infogram that can be cut out and tucked in your journal.
- What do you know of the coronavirus or COVID-19?
- The COVID-19 outbreak is classified a pandemic. What does this mean?
- When did you first start hearing about COVID-19?
- What were your first reactions to it? How did this news make you feel?
- Describe how national, state, and local leaders are responding to this pandemic. Compare their responses today to 2-3 weeks ago.
- What are the top headlines in the news today?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your level of anxiety or fear today?
- If you are feeling any amount of anxiety, can you name what is causing that?
- What are you most grateful for today?
- What would make today great?
- What truth from God’s Word brings you comfort today? Need a little help? Check out these passages:
- Psalm 91 is a good place to start.
- Philippians 4:4-7 also speaks reassuring words.
- Psalm 46:10 reminds us to be in awe of who God is.
- What song lifts your spirit today? I’ve listed a few worship songs that bring joy to my spirit.
- Waymaker by Leeland proclaims the truth of who our God is in the midst of darkness.
- Tremble by Mosaic MSC declares how Jesus makes the darkness tremble and silences fear.
- Your Name is Power by Rend Collective reminds us that Jesus’ name is power over darkness and faithful in the battle.
- Write out a prayer today lifting your burdens to the Lord and giving thanks and praise to Him.
Things to Keep in Mind
My intent for asking our teens to start journaling is to encourage a new habit and to process this critical time in our world. First, let’s always be discipling our kids to be in God’s word daily. I realize there is so much information out there that clutters our mind with distraction. If your teen tends to get more anxious by reading the news, by all means, don’t have them looking up daily headlines. An alternate option might be that you give them a brief daily overview.
On the flip side, teens are very aware of what is happening, and I don’t want to pretend that they’re not. I appreciated the reminder given by our pastor in this week’s online message, “Faith is forged in uncertain times.” Conversations need to be intentional and ongoing. I believe teens really do want their parents to engage in conversation with them so both sides can be heard. This is where true connection happens, so let’s not look past this opportunity to be having solid faith conversations with our teens.
What else would you add to the list of journaling prompts? I would love to hear from you. Drop me an email and let me know your thoughts. And don’t forget to grab your free printable below.