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Promoting writing for adolescents and teens

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Beyond words on a page

When a child reaches the teen years, writing is more and more critical to academic success. Teens are expected to be able to write essays for school and respond in words to questions in just about any subject. In addition, there are some big writing efforts coming up: many state standardized tests have an essay section, and the SAT now has a writing portion. Then there are college application essays, in addition the plain ability to communicate clearly in the world. Writing is important.

Girl reading a textbook

By this time in your child's academic career, you likely have taken a step back in terms of homework. Maybe you can't help with your child's trigonometry homework like you could with algebra years ago and your memory of high school biology, physics and Shakespeare is fuzzy. But you can still help your child with writing, regardless whether you know the subject matter.

Because writing is such a critical life skill, it takes practice, practice and more practice. Your child will hopefully be encouraged again and again by the school to do so. At home, you can support this effort by being a resource for your child as they work on these bigger writing projects, and thereby reinforce the value of writing.

Planning and organization

By now your child knows that writing is more than just putting words down on paper. Good, communicative writing is about planning and organization, too.

Make available resources for planning the bigger writing assignments, whether it's note cards, a calendar or whatever method your child has been taught. As your child works on the writing assignments, offer to talk through organization issues, structure of points, and the like. You are not offering to do any of the work for them, but you will be a terrific resource as your child tries to figure out what comes first, and the segue to the next point. Remember also that this is not about judgment of the quality of the topic and content, just helping to organize your child's thoughts.

Space for inspiration and effort

Make sure your child has adequate space and time for writing, with minimal distractions from the task at hand. That said, everyone has their own optimal writing environment - some on the floor, some in the hammock, some at the desk. If your child has discovered his (or thinks he has and the results of such prior work are acceptable), let that happen. Writing is a creative process and we each need different things to get those creative juices flowing.

Proofing and editing

As the writing proceeds, emphasize the importance of proofing and editing. Rarely is a first draft ever perfect! Even the best writers edited, proofed, and revised, revised, revised before sending their masterpiece off to the printer. Offer your help - but remember again, this isn't about judgment. Let the teacher be the judge while you just help make sure all the Ts are crossed, Is are dotted, and commas are in the right place. You don't need to understand a thing about the subject or the validity of the points to be able to point out run-on sentences and proper use of "their," "there," and "they're."

The ways we promote and support writing by our children changes through the years - yet it's always something our kids have to do on their own. Learning to support writing in the teen years can further support their ability to communicate clearly as adults.

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