Do you have teens who are reluctant to write? Do they think they don’t have anything worthwhile to say? Maybe they are intimidated by a blank sheet of paper? Or perhaps they see writing as just another assignment to complete. Don’t worry! You can encourage your teens to write with these simple strategies.
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More than once I’ve found myself sitting in front of my laptop where that spinning “stuck” icon is in my brain, not the computer screen. (I have a Mac and call it the spinning beach ball of death 🤪) So I get why our teens struggle to write sometimes when we give them an assignment. At times the words just won’t come.
It’s time to hit refresh for your teens minds with these simple strategies to encourage your teens to write.
4 Simple Ways to Encourage Your Teens to Write
1.Encourage your teens to write by giving them time.
Help your teens to choose the best.
Teens need time. It isn’t uncommon to fill our schedules up to the point that having down-time is almost impossible. There are so many good things out there. But it isn’t worth it to do all the good things if our teens don’t have time to just be instead of do. So help them figure out what is the best and create a little margin in their days.
Help your teens get control of technology in their lives.
We find that technology means we are always doing something—checking social media, getting email, playing games. It’s amazing how addictive it can be.
But if you want your kids to write, know they need time—time to think, time to read, time to explore.
Time to be bored.
Boredom is actually something that benefits us and leads to creativity. Creativity means “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Yes, writing is artistic work whether it is a research paper or a short story. Engaging writing comes from making connections, saying things in new ways, and expressing ideas so others understand. It involves insight, humor, and thinking outside-the-box. That sounds creative to me no matter what the format is.
And research is telling us that boredom can actually lead to our most creative ideas, as Manoush Zomorodi shares in her TED talk. (There is a tiny bit of “language” in this…like 2 words. But the talk is thought provoking for us and our teens!)
2.Encourage your teens to write by setting up a good writing environment.
Give your teens the knowledge they need.
In order to write, teens have to have something to write about. Think of your teens’ minds as a bucket. If the bucket is empty, then they can’t get anything out of it. I know that seems obvious, but a thoughtful life produces thoughtful words. So make sure your teens have access to knowledge in a variety of forms—works of fiction and non-fiction, poetry and plays; news and documentaries and movies.
Give your teens a comfortable place to write.
Our environment does make a difference! Personally I love writing while sitting in a comfy chair, or even propped up in bed. But when I have more work related, technical writing, I’m more productive at a desk. Everyone is different, so encourage your teens to find what works for them.
You can even go to a coffee shop together or the library and both get some work done. And having your space reasonably clean (not perfect!) and well organized can be really helpful for writers. Even the temperature of the room can make a difference. But the main point is, let them experiment knowing that it may be different according to the type of writing they are doing.
Give your teens great writing tools.
Here are some of my personal favorite writing tools. I love my MacBook Pro (I’m also a photographer), but if I was just writing I would get the MacBook Air. Love how small and light weight it is! But if you not a Mac family, any laptop is nice 😉
But obviously they don’t have to have their own (or even a compute for that matter)!
At times I like to use journals and notebooks for certain types of writing—personal, note taking, journaling, and Bible study. Here are some of my more “old fashioned” favorite resources. There is something about writing on paper that just can’t be replaced by a computer. And binders can be useful is setting up and organizing a writer’s notebook filled with ideas, and notes, and freewrites (more on that in a bit.)
3. Encourage your teens to write through great conversations.
One of the most beneficial things we as parents can do to help our teens develop any communication skill, is to practice the art of conversation. Of course the primary reason is simply to strength our family relationships. But by talking with our teens, we also help them to become better writers.
Conversation involves more than simply talking to our teens. It involves talking with them. Good conversations happen when we are able to truly communicate. So listening is as important as talking, probably even more so.
A few things to talk about to prepare them to write:
- Discuss what they are learning about together. Ask questions that go beyond recalling facts. Help them to see the connection between ideas, concepts, and subjects.
- Talk about current events. Ask their opinion about the events in our world without criticizing. It’s fine if you bring up other points, but they need to know you are really listening and considering their ideas. Sometimes I’ll say something like, “OK, now I’m going to ‘play devil’s advocate’ here” so they know I’m not attacking their ideas—just helping them hone their arguments.
- Read aloud together even during the teen years and discuss the book. And if you teens balk at read alouds, you can still read some of the same books they do so you can talk about them together. Our family had some great conversations about The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Writing is thinking, and because of that clear thinking leads us to write better. One way we clarify our thinking is to talk. To express ideas, opinions and have someone to dig deeper through questions.
How can you build your child’s ability to think and therefore express thoughts clearly and interestingly in writing? There is nothing mystical about it. Reading, discussion, meaning and experience build thinking skills. —Debbie Strayer
Conversation is a big part of the Brave Writer Lifestyle, as well as the next way you can encourage your teens to write: freewriting.
4. Encourage your teens to write by starting with freewriting.
I first heard about freewriting while going through Julie’s Bogart’s, The Writer’s Jungle. The concept is simple, but effective. A timer, pen or pencil, and paper can unlock the words within your teen when done consistently.
Or as Julie Bogart says, “Freewriting is that wonderful key that unlocks the writer within.”
Your teens may not know it, but, yes they are writers. They have valuable things to say. Freewriting: The Key that Unlocks the Words will teach you how to do freewriting, step-by-step. If your teen is new to it, start with just 5 minutes. As they get more comfortable you can increase the time. We usually did it for 10 minutes, or maybe 15 if they wanted to continue.
Related: Writing for Teens:Beyond the Essay
Here are some of my favorite resources for freewriting prompts:
- Comics—Especially Calvin and Hobbs!
- Brave Writer freewriting prompts.
- A question, quote, or fact from a subject they are studying.
- A photo. I love “Scary Place” from the Friday Freewrite section of the Brave Writer blog. And I’ve designed a free download of photographs to inspire freewrites you’ll find at the end of this post!
- Wordless picture books. Choose a page or let them look through the whole book and be inspired.
- Art. Collections in books, prints, and my favorite: an actual museum. Let them look. Give them plenty of time and ask questions to get them started like, “What emotions do you see in this work of art?” or “Talk about what you like or dislike about his work.”
- A story. Maybe it’s a familiar fairy tale, tall tale, or children’s story. Any of these are perfect to inspire a free write by asking something like, “What might the story look like with a different setting?” or “How would you change the ending?”
- The news. We subscribed to World magazine for our sons, but tried to look at a variety of sources online (even those with differing worldviews, which is important if we want our teens to analyze what they are reading and be able to develop their thinking skills.)
- Thought provoking quotes. You can find quotes on any subject on the internet, or have students write down some of their favorites from their own reading. A few to get you started…
Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.―
If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. ―Education is what most receive, many pass on, and few possess. —Karl Kraus
- Picture books. Read the story or be inspired by the illustrations. Picture books can be used in endless ways to prompt freewriting no matter what ages your children are.
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