Photo: Maggy Wheeler Photography
Since the dawn of time, being a teenager has simply been hard. It is an “in between” stage: not quite a kid but not quite an adult. Transitional times like this may cause you significant unrest, but may also offer you the potential for tremendous growth. It is common knowledge—almost a cliché—that today’s teenagers face not only the traditional coming-of-age challenges, but also the demanding, constant world of technology and social media. Today’s high schoolers have always lived with the intertwined conveniences and stresses of technology. Teenagers and adults alike communicate MORE frequently, but quantity and quality are not aligned. Hannah Brencher, founder of More Love Letters, describes millennials as those who, “have never known themselves loved on paper.” In an age ridden with accounts of depression and anxiety, could writing more letters by hand make a difference in how we get to know ourselves and the people in our lives?
I have been studying, researching, and practicing the implementation of handwriting letters as a way to mindfully and intentionally disconnect from the digital world so we can better connect to ourselves and our communities. It has been a challenging balance of embracing the beauty and possibility of technology, while also remembering the value of traditional methods of communication. Writing letters is not quick and easy, but we must ask ourselves, is quick and easy truly the way we want to connect with our friends, family, and loved ones? Perhaps there is a better way.
Writing letters—like being a teenager—falls somewhere “in between” in the world of writing. It is not as ‘quick and easy’ as a text message, nor is it as complex and formal as a two-page, double-spaced essay. As a teenager living “in-between”, letter-writing may not be something you are frequently invited to do, despite the fact that it has so much to offer you in terms of self-discovery and gratitude. Even as an adult, making time to write may be difficult for you, requiring intention. Many of us simply don’t do it! Therefore, kids and teenagers don’t receive letters or have letter-writing models to emulate. In essence, they don’t know what they don’t know.
Developing a letter-writing practice
Writing is a valuable way to engage with our communities. It also allows us to unearth our own voices. Many of us, teens and adults alike, are resistant to writing. We may become self-critical of our penmanship or have flashbacks to English classes where we felt our every word, thought and idea was scrutinized; held under a microscope. Letter-writing, alternatively, can be an opportunity to write without judgment. There is no right or wrong; only authenticity. Letter-writing allows writers of all ages to express ideas from start to finish without interruption and with more thoughtfulness. I have found it quite interesting that when we write letters, we are more likely to express gratitude and genuine appreciation than we would in a face-to-face conversation, and definitely more than in a text or email, which simply feels less important since we receive them all the time. We reveal a different, sometimes more genuine side of ourselves through the written word.
Students: I invite you to explore initiating a letter-writing practice. You are at a pivotal point in your life; this in-between stage, where you get to choose how to interact with the world and collaborate with your peers. Remember that you can send written correspondence for holidays and birthdays, but sometimes unexpected expressions of thanks and acknowledgement can be even more meaningful. Your words have tremendous power.
Adults: Choose to be a role model for the young people in your life. Becoming more intentional about sending letters and cards, helps you to model what healthy, strong communication looks like, while also allowing you to show the kids and teens in your life that you care. The act of sitting down to write a letter by hand means that you paused to think of no one else but the letter recipient. Teenagers too often feel unseen, unheard, unimportant. You get to remind them otherwise.
You are invited
When you choose to initiate a letter-writing practice, please reach out and let me know how it’s going at firstname.lastname@example.org! If you would like some inspiration, I invite you to sign up for my free 6-week letter-writing challenge at samanthaboettger.com to receive a prompt in your email inbox on Saturday mornings. Happy writing!
About Samantha Boettger
Samantha Boettger is an aspiring author, crafting a book about handwriting letters in the 21st century. She is fascinated by the potential for letter writing, amidst the instantaneous qualities of technology, to promote mindfulness and gratitude. It is her hope that encouraging more people of all ages to write to each other by hand will help us to better connect to ourselves and our communities.