As a parent, you know how important it is in the long run for your teen to have good writing skills. Whether it be an e-mail, a memo, or a college academic paper, your student will probably have to write in some capacity throughout college, their career, and beyond.
However, as teenagers, many students view writing as a chore rather than an essential skill. In their world, writing comes mostly in the mundane form of essays and term papers for classes and standardized tests. All the writing on the SAT, ACT, AP exams, and many high school classes are either assigned as homework or are part of a timed, high-pressure setting. It’s very difficult for most high school students to view writing as a fun, creative activity.
As a parent, you are probably looking out for your child’s future and want to make sure that your teenager has the writing skills that they will need to succeed later on in life. Here are some ways that you can help your teenager view writing as a positive experience and improve their writing skills at the same time!
Play the Coach
Understandably, your teenager is unlikely to respond well to you coming up to them and saying, “Buddy, you need to become a better writer. I’m going to look over your essays and correct all of them”. This might make your student might feel like they’re being harshly judged or being called stupid by their own parents.
So, instead of telling them what to do and correcting their writing without their consent, try to take some time and create a conversation about their writing skills first. Ask them about their last writing assignment, whether they thought they did well, and what they feel they need help with. Then, you can offer to look at their writing not to correct or judge, but just as a second set of eyes that they willingly allowed to view their work.
It’s also important that when you’re first doing this to not completely tear apart their writing or tell them to start over. Start with some basic grammar and spelling corrections, let them see that you’re just trying to help, and then eventually become harsher with your opinion. This way, you help your child get better grades on their writing assignments, they don’t feel bad about you correcting their work, and they become better writers.
Practice, Practice, Practice
In high school, students may get writing assignments in a class once a week at most. While this may seem like a lot of writing to the average high school student, that amount of writing is not at all enough to cause a dramatic improvement in writing skills. Ideally, students should be practicing their writing on a daily basis.
In order for your child to improve their writing skills, try motivating them to practice their writing every day. This daily writing can take the form of journal exercises, free-form topic writing, warm up writing, etc. There doesn’t have to be a format to the writing, and it doesn’t have to be long. They just need to practice correct grammatical structure, spelling, punctuation, and most importantly, forming a coherent thought on paper.
Edit Their Writing
You can be the person who helps your student submit quality writing assignments. You don’t have to completely rewrite their papers and essays, but you can offer to do some basic Spell Check-type editing. This includes fixing the grammar, spelling, and punctuation usage of your student’s writing.
While there are many apps, websites, and Spell Check functions that can edit in this way, you can stress to your child that there is no real substitute for proofreading.
Remember, it’s important that you phrase your editing of their work as a discussion with your child instead of simply using a red pen to fix their work and handing it back to them. Your student is not going to become a better writer if you don’t explain why you’re correcting things and tell them what they’re doing wrong.
It’s important not to just focus on the negative. While giving them ways to improve on their writing and helping them through the editing process, you should make sure to also give them gentle encouragement and remind them that they’re off to a great start while you’re going through edits and revisions.
Some ways to encourage your young writer are:
• You can point out the positive aspects of their writing or a particular passage or sentence that was done very well.
• You can tell your student how their writing impacted you, how you felt when you read it. Make sure to tell them this as a reader, not as their parent or teacher. This positive reinforcement will help your student want to improve their writing.
Ask Your Child to Read Their Writing Aloud or Backwards
It’s surprisingly common for writers at any age to miss key errors or confusing passages when they read their writing to themselves. Since you’ve written it yourself, you’re likely to read over your work quickly because you already know what it says. Thus, your scan may not catch all the errors that you made.
A great way to get your student to slow down and catch all the errors in their writing is to have them read their writing out loud. Sometimes hearing their words can help them decipher whether a sentence is correct or whether it makes sense.
If they don’t want to read their writing aloud, they can try reading their writing backwards–i.e., they can start from the last sentence and work their way to the first sentence. This causes their brain to focus more on the material and read closely because they are reading a pattern of sentences that don’t necessarily make sense. This may not help them decipher whether their writing is adequately portraying the message, but it’s a great way for them to catch grammatical and spelling errors.
Make Writing A Priority
If your student agrees, you both can arrange some time every day to work on their writing skills and help them get better at writing in general. This may take a bit of convincing given that, as high school students, they have a lot of responsibilities and very busy schedules. You can only do this with the enthusiastic consent of your student. They have to want to become better writers.
If you don’t make sure your child is fully onboard with this plan, you may end up reinforcing the idea that writing is a chore. Then, they may not want to do it later in life, when it becomes essential. In other words, be an enabler, not a drill sergeant.
Your student may become more enthusiastic about writing and improving their writing skills if they had something to show for it besides better grades on their essays. A great way to incentivize your child to improve their writing is to encourage them to participate in writing contests or get their writing published in a school newspaper or other publication. After all, it’s far more rewarding to see one’s work in print than to simply get it back with red marks or a grade hastily written across the top. By getting your child involved in writing for rewards, you could get them excited about writing in general and encourage them to improve their writing skills.
Use Social Media and Technology To Your Advantage
Nowadays, teenagers are using so much shorthand and acronyms in their texts and social media posts that it almost stops looking like English at times. This certainly does not help students become better writers for school, college, and their career.
Thus, you may want to challenge your student to start practicing proper grammar and punctuation when they text their friends or post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Odds are they probably post on these social media channels so often already that you wouldn’t have to do much to convince them. Thus, they would be getting valuable practice forming coherent thoughts and sentences almost every day, and they may even receive feedback from their peers and social media followers.
Hire a Writing Tutor
If your student’s writing skills are far below where they should be at his or her age, or if you don’t think you have enough time to dedicate to helping your child, you may want to consider hiring a writing tutor to help get your student back on track.
This doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. You can look to your student’s high school and your local community for older students or individuals who can look over your student’s writing and help them become better writers for a lower fee than some of the professional services out there.
Don’t just leave it up to the experts though. You should still check your student’s writing from time to time to make sure that they really are showing improvement.