Note to my teen self

Many children and teenagers keep a diary to process their daily lives, but what advice would their grown-up selves give? Arlene Harris meets four women from different fields to find an answer.

Note to my teen self

ADRIAN Mole had one, so did Bridget Jones. And as for the Wimpy Kid, he had several. Diaries – the little books beloved of teenagers (and adults) all over the world — help us to note, remember, and process the daily dramas of our lives.

An exhibition is running in the V&A Museum of Childhood in London featuring extracts from teenage diaries written over the past 200 years. Once meant for the writer’s eyes only, they offer a unique insight into the life of young adults over the centuries.

With this in mind we asked four well-known women from different walks of life what they remember about their diary-writing-days and what advice they would give to their teenage self with the benefit of age and maturity.

Julie Feeney: Singer, songwriter, and musician

“I kept a diary from the age of nine but I haven’t seen it for years. I have always been an archivist and liked documenting life experiences whether through photos or writing down my memories, so my diary contained a lot of information about what I did on any given day, how I was feeling and the reasons why it was a happy or a sad day. It had a lock on it as I felt it was a very personal thing and I wanted to keep it secret — it was for no-one’s eyes but my own.

“I was very religious about writing in it for a while but then as I got older the entries were more sporadic as I went to boarding school so it was harder to find the time and the privacy to write in it.

“Looking back I think it was probably very therapeutic as I’m sure it was a way of processing feelings in the same way that teenagers today use Facebook or Twitter to record their daily events.

“I don’t really have much advice for my younger self except to encourage the diary writing as it will be of benefit later on - putting feelings down in words is a great means of expression and will help when it comes to writing songs or poetry. “That said, I really must dig out my diary again to see exactly what was so important to me back then.”

Julie Feeney will be playing in Vicar Street, Dublin on September 26 and Cork Opera House on October 17;

Sybil Mulcahy: TV presenter and Caldesun ambassador

“I had a diary when I was a teenager but it wasn’t for long as I got bored after about 30 pages.

“I found it years later and remember having a laugh because I couldn’t understand half of what I had written — everything was in code — with things like ‘Saw J today when I was in the supermarket and ‘M is really good looking’ and I have no clue who on earth I was talking about. The rest of the stuff I wrote down was pretty mundane with entries like ‘I got up this morning at 8am, had my breakfast, went to play tennis, watched the Karate Kid on television and went to bed.’

“I remember it was very private, it didn’t have a lock or anything but I hid it under my bed so nobody could find it. I grew up in a house with six brothers and sisters so believe me it was hard to keep anything private. My sister Elizabeth had to resort to keeping her knickers secured with a bicycle lock so nobody would steal them.

“I think writing a diary was very beneficial and looking back I wish I had kept more of a record of my childhood as it would be nice to have the memories. But I am a terribly impatient person so I can see how I only lasted a month.

“If I could give advice to my teenage self it would be to get a decent haircut and stop wearing foundation five shades darker than my own skin type. I would have also told myself to stop messing in school and in college. But overall I would have told myself to stick with my dreams and beliefs and it will take me where I want to be.”

Sybil presents Midday on TV3 which has recently switched to an 11.30am slot.

Melanie Nocher: Olympic swimmer

“I am the youngest of four children so I used to try and copy everything my brother and sisters did. When I was a child I would see my sister writing in a diary so I tried to keep one too. But I never really had anything of interest to write in it so I stopped.

“Then when I was a bit older and became more heavily involved in swimming I used to keep a training diary with the sessions I had swam, resting heart rates in the morning, and what I had eaten. So I’m sure it was a far cry from the diaries most of my friends had at the same age.

“I also used to include how I felt during training but any worries were all related to sport and I believe that it helped me to sort them out. I was so dependent on getting good results that I often forgot to have fun and put a lot of stress on myself to perform well and make everyone proud.

“But I found it really useful to write things down and sometimes I would stay up late thinking about a scenario and it was only when I wrote it down that I could stop thinking about it.

“As an older and wiser person I would tell my teenage self not to worry so much about trivial things.

“But it is only looking back I realise that the saying about living and learning by experiences is very true. I believe the best advice would be to remember the good times more than the bad.”

Catherine Fulvio: Cookery writer and chef

“I kept a diary between the ages of 11 and 14 and was absolutely religious about updating it every day. I would do it after school and it was a great distraction from getting stuck straight into homework.

“At the time I had a pony and documented everything it did each and every day – it’s a little cringeworthy looking back on it now but made perfect sense to me at the time.

“Keeping a diary was a healthy obsession — a private account of things that happened on the day. If things weren’t going so well at school I would have noted that as well my pony’s activities so if I thought a teacher was giving me the evil eye I would mention it. So it definitely wasn’t just a way to pass time.

“Looking back it was a great way of helping to iron things out by writing them down. It helped me reason with myself and offload teenage dilemmas.

“I would encourage my children to keep a diary — they are still a little young now but it’s a great tool for a teenager and something I envisage my daughter may explore as perhaps it’s more a girl thing.

“I believe there is more pressure on kids today, whether from social media, TV or other areas so a diary can help dissolve the problems of the day. But I don’t think teenagers should feel obliged to write one either.

“My advice to my teenage self would be: believe in yourself and do not be taken in by others.

“Work hard and your dreams will come true And the most important, stay in touch with friends from school and college — they will be your lifeline in the future.”

The Great Diary Project, V&A Museum of Childhood, runs until October 12.

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