Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Teaching My Daughters What A Pen Pal Is In The Age Of Social Media

Last week, I introduced my daughters to the old school concept of pen pals. In enthusiastic mommy voice, my explanation went something like this, “When I was your age, I had what’s called a pen pal! We wrote letters back and forth to each other, and even though we never met, we became friends. We would write about what we liked and didn’t like, and we’d ask questions about each other, and sometimes, we would even send each other stickers! Plus, wouldn’t it be great to get a letter in the mail that’s just for you?” As my seven year old stared blankly at me after my pen pal description, I was left thinking that I may have overhyped it.

That is, until the pensive look on my older daughter’s face turned into a smile. Because my younger daughter has a cousin in New Jersey that is only four days apart in age (shout out to LiAnna), I was actually trying to gear the conversation towards her.  But with her older sister on board, I figured her acceptance of the idea would follow. And then I remembered that my girls are complete opposites. So, what one finds interesting, the other naturally detests. Fallon, my oldest, wound up writing a letter to a friend who moved away last year. As for LiAnna in New Jersey, I’m still working on it.  At the end of the day, a letter was written and put in the mailbox. Mission accomplished…sort of.

I have to admit that I was a little surprised by the effort it took me to get the girls interested in the pen pal idea. Based on my short description, you might think this took only minutes. However, this whole process, from explanation to finished letter in the mailbox, took a few hours.  You might be wondering if my girls have IPhones or Facebook accounts or any other technology that enables them to communicate immediately with someone. Though they have Skyped a few times from my laptop, the answer is no. My kids are currently phone and text-free kids. So it’s not like they were frowning upon the antiquated snail mail concept. They just simply weren’t as interested as I thought they would be.

So, that’s when I started wondering about letter writing in general. Technology has completely squashed the need for it. As I sit here with my laptop, writing this blog that has the potential of reaching a significant amount of people all over the world, I don’t want it to seem like I don’t appreciate our culture of instantaneous communication. But I also can’t help but think how nice it would be to get a letter in the mail that isn’t a bill or a random catalog from Omaha Steaks. Not to mention, the pleasure of writing back has always been special to me. But in our technology driven world, has the art of putting pen to paper been lost? Does letter writing have a place anymore? If we can’t quickly “like” a “status”, would a letter in the mail from a friend get lost in the abyss of our daily shuffle?

Obviously, my daughters’ lives at seven and ten years old are not too busy. Even so, I’m not sure if the pen pal idea will stick or if they will see the value in it. At the very least, I am happy to have familiarized them with letter writing. Even if they only write and receive one letter, I hope they find those few moments of pure joy when opening the mailbox and finding a letter from a friend. 

*This piece was published on Scary Mommy on August 25, 2015.