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Confidence Keepers

Special To The Times

Dear Diary:

Mom is driving me crazy. She wants to spend quality time with me, again, you know, just hang out together. I wanted to go to a movie, but guess what? She doesn’t think that’s quality time! She wants to talk--blah, blah, blah!

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Girls love them. They confide in them, lock them, hide them. They secretly share their innermost thoughts with them, no matter how trivial, because a young girl’s diary is always willing to listen, page after blank page.

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The standard-looking journal with a little metal lock, which served for generations, is now passe, superseded by those sporting a gimmick, a gadget, something that attracts a techno-savvy audience of young diarists.

“If you give young kids a regular journal, it’s going to seem boring. They need more hooks today to keep them interested,” said Paul Gainer, vice president of merchandising for the online retailer EToys, which carries more than 100 kinds of journals and journal-related books and crafts.

Sales of traditionally styled journals and diaries, usually geared to girls in junior high and high school, have remained relatively steady. But in recent years, the toy industry has marketed the concept of journaling to a much younger audience, according to Gainer.

To capture the attention of the 12-and-younger set, toy manufacturers have come up with lots of neat extras such as voice-activated locks, black-paged dream journals, even software that allows a user to add sound effects to her text.

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But the Ultra Secret Stuff Journal by Swingset Press may employ the most cryptic gimmick of all: The journal keeper must use an ultraviolet pen, and the text is revealed only with the aid of a special battery-operated black light.

“Normally,” said Gainer, “you would not have a journal among your top 100 selling toys, but the black-light journal is.”

In fact, more than 100,000 copies of the $20 black-light journal have sold since the product hit the market last June. The journal’s creators, Ron and Iris Solomon of Van Nuys, anticipate sales doubling next year.

A former television writer for tween-oriented shows “Saved by the Bell” and “Hang Time,” Ron Solomon believes the 8- to 12-year-old crowd has a lot to say and needs some protected space in which to say it. “The deeper the emotion, the darker the feeling, the riskier it is to express it,” he said. “But this journal is completely safe.”

Unfortunately, some parents confuse the need for secrecy with more worrisome behavior, but childhood experts believe private diaries provide children with a place to sort out their feelings without criticism or input from peers or parents.

“Journals simply give them some space to start defining themselves,” said New York-based psychologist Tian Dayton, author of “It’s My Life!: A Power Journal for Teens, A Workout for Your Mind” (Health Communications Inc.; 1996).

With two boys of their own, the Solomons had hoped their product, purposely designed without pink bows, butterflies or hearts, would appeal to both genders. Girls, however, are still their best customers.

Nature versus nurture arguments aside,

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American boys historically do not keep journals; girls do. The first generation of adolescent diarists dates to the 1830s, though most of these early accounts are spiritual expositions reflecting the evangelical fervor of the time.

Not until the 1890s did middle-class, high school girls start writing about everyday issues--friends, fashion, and yes, their mothers. In the last century, the information became more explicit, according to Cornell University historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg, an expert on American female adolescence who has studied more than a century of teen diaries.

Ten-year-old Adrienne Norman of Pasadena writes in her diary regularly, and she says it helps her deal with the tough patches in her relationships. “Girls get all emotional about stuff,” said Adrienne. “Boys may get in a fight, but then it’s over. If we get mad at each other, it just keeps going and going.”

The emotional and educational advantages of keeping a journal are well-documented. In fact, many schools now require journal-keeping in the classroom, partly to encourage reading and writing skills, but also as a tool to develop a child’s emotional intelligence, according to Emily Sears Vaughn, a counselor at Marlborough School, a private secondary school for girls in Hancock Park.

“Journaling provides the opportunity to reflect on a bundle of feelings and experiences collected during the day. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to put yourself in the situation in a different way,” said Vaughn, who believes this ability encourages empathy.

Adrienne is almost at the end of her first diary, one that her grandparents gave her. She plans to start another one, to keep a record of her life. “Then someday I’ll find them in my attic and share them with my own kids.”


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