Reflecting on Adolescence: How Stories Can Inspire Teen Empathy

When Georgia Gootee examines the journals she wrote as a 15-year-old, she sympathizes with her younger flailing self. “You can read through these journals and tell that at some points I’m just so terrified that it’ll never come together, I’ll never find my place in the world, I’ll never feel loved or love anyone myself,” the 26-year-old teacher told me. At the same time, Gootee can chuckle at the overwrought nature of her youthful preoccupations. “It’s a weird duality,” she said.
Gootee knows this material is funny because she heard the audience laugh when she read excerpts from her teenage journal at a Mortified performance in Portland last year. Mortified shows, as they’re called, feature adults reading aloud and on stage from their adolescent diaries. Like Gootee, readers typically share their most embarrassing and wrenching youthful stories on a variety of subjects: crushes, body image, self-esteem, divorce. Sharing these intensely private excerpts provokes laughter and connection between the audience and reader.
Mortified is the brainchild of self-described “angstologist” David Nadelberg, a writer and storyteller who stumbled on the idea of adults reading aloud from their adolescent journals after he shared a hilariously passionate and juvenile love letter with friends, and witnessed their positive reaction. Mortified was launched in Los Angeles 14 years ago, and now 20 cities around the world host their own live shows. The Mortified “movement” has grown to include& …