- August 2018
- Written by Cassidy Russell
You spent hours trying to learn this new way of doing math to help your daughter with her homework. After finally figuring it out… EUREKA! You help her! Unfortunately, she came back from school with a big 60% written in red ink in the corner of her algebra test. Where did it all go wrong? You spent way too many hours to only come up with a 60%! So, you tell your daughter to march back into school tomorrow and ask the teacher why.
When you pick her up from school the next day, your immediate question is “What did your teacher say?” All you get is a defeated shrug. “Didn’t you ask him?” Her long pause is amplified by her hood pulled tightly about her face. The only thing you get from her is a dejected, “I don’t know.”
What happened? Well, you asked a lot from your teen and she wasn’t able to deliver.
What do you mean I asked a lot? I worked my butt off only to get a 60% and deserve to know why. Besides, it’s not that hard to ask her teacher a question. That’s what teachers are there for.
It’s easy enough for most adults to ask for what they want. Adults have had a lot of practice verbalizing and communicating their needs to others. Most kids haven't had the need to advocate for themselves too much. Factor in the common teenage fear that everyone is judging them and looking for any excuse to criticize, and it makes asking what may be considered a dumb question very difficult. They haven’t built up their Communication Confidence.
What is Communication Confidence and why is it so fun to say?
Communication Confidence is a fun use of alliteration, but more than that it’s the ability to verbalize thoughts and needs effectively to others. In the example above, your struggling math student couldn’t talk to her teacher because she doesn’t have the confidence in herself to communicate her emotional needs in a way that will get them met.
Well, how can she build Communication Confidence then?
The best way to build confidence is to practice. That’s why you most likely have the ability to do things like call a doctor to make an appointment, whereas your kid would shiver at the thought. Adults have enough life experience to have built their own sense of confidence to live in the world. Not to worry though, you don't have to wait until your child is 30 to stop making her doctor's appointments because she's too scared to. There are other ways to practice. One such way is writing.
Wait… are you expecting my child to write for fun? Just last week she kept me up all night trying to finish a book report for a book neither of us read. What makes you think she would write just to write?
Though it looks similar, there are some major differences between creative writing and writing a book report or the dreaded essay. Sure, it all involves putting words onto a page, but creative writing is personal.
Asking a teen to write a 2-page book report on Life: The Autobiography of Keith Richards, is very different from asking her to write a short story about her favorite memory from this past summer with her best friend. One is work; it’s boring. The book report is also accompanied by expectation and the risk of failure. The second option is personal and for her alone. It’s a chance to relive and process something important to her, and if she chooses to share it with others, she can make that choice. She doesn’t have to worry about a grade or being wrong or right. She can choose her words as they best represent her thoughts and feelings.
But, what’s the point of writing about her favorite summer memory? If my child is going to write, then it should be in accordance to grade standards (besides, Keith Richards is a cultural treasure).
It may surprise you, but writing is writing. Though creative writing holds less strict rules, the act of writing is still practice. No matter what a person writes, it builds that person’s writing skills and overall Communication Confidence. Communication is a skill that many teenagers, especially girls, struggle with, leading to a lack of self-assurance. It’s why she doesn’t just go to the teacher and ask about her grade or tell others how she’s feeling. It’s a way to practice stringing words into coherent and meaningful thoughts. Writing a silly story about how a dog is missing its favorite toy can actually help with writing that dreaded book report. In this case, practice makes confidence. Writing also doubles as a strong coping skill to help adolescents battle depression and anxiety.
What makes writing such a positive coping skill?
There are several ways in which writing acts as a coping skill. Writing can be used as a tool to aid in mindfulness. Mindfulness is a widely studied and utilized intervention to help fight depression and anxiety. The main focus of mindfulness is to stay in the present without judging one’s self. Writing is a way to get thoughts out. Creative writing can be a catharsis, a way to let out emotions in a healthy way. Once those thoughts are out, it’s easier to let go. Why else would so many songs be about love and heartbreak?
Ok but my child isn't Taylor Swift. She is too young to experience real heartbreak. What is she supposed to write about?
There is a plethora of things she can write about:
- How much she loves her pet
- How she is coping with her parents’ divorce
- Her experience taking coding lessons
- Her memories making cookies with Grandma
- That fight she had with her best friend
There are no limits to what a person can write about. Each of those examples can get emotions and thoughts out, both positive and negative. This helps combat against maladaptive rumination or brooding. In other words, it's a way for teenagers to get out all that teenage angst in a way that won't annoy you. Expressive writing allows for a person to confront negative thoughts in a new way, bringing about a healthy change in perspective.
I like the sound of less angst. But, I’m having trouble imagining my daughter sitting down to willingly write anything let alone something that will have that kind of impact.
It can be hard to imagine, especially since the typical person shies away from writing an essay. That being said, creative expressive writing is different from the kind of writing a student does in a classroom. Writing about what a person is passionate about is empowering… especially to a pre-teen or teenager. It encourages research, goal setting, and subsequent accomplishment.
For example, every year teachers utilize tools from the Young Writers Program from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/), to lead their students on a literary adventure. Students set word count goals for themselves which leads to the writing of an original story for the month of November. Many students surpass their personal goals. Teachers report that it increases class cohesion and overall communication skills.
Class cohesion? But, isn’t writing a solitary thing? Don’t most writers go to a cabin in the woods to finish their novels?
That is a common misconception regarding writing. It is often seen as a solo activity; however, many writers actually enjoy going to writing groups. This allows for the writer to bounce ideas off of others and gain valuable, constructive feedback regarding their current work. Writers will often seek out groups and critique partners in order to improve themselves.
That sounds like a lovely idea. But, how can I find a safe and appropriate writing group for my daughter to join?
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