For parents of high school students, it can seem like they’re so busy with schoolwork, a social life and other hobbies that writing takes a back seat – even if they’re talented or have shown they enjoy it. If your teenager is interested in writing, but you’re not sure how to support them to do it more often, try our top 3 tips to help instil the habit.
1. Encourage your teen to read widely
Pamela Freeman is the director of creative writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and is a successful author of around 40 books. One thing she’s noticed when teaching young writers is that they tend to stick to a narrow range of genres in their own reading, while professional writers read more broadly.
“Take them to the library, buy them books for birthdays and Christmas, and encourage them to try something different, something that you loved when you were that age. Share the books that you love. Because now they're getting older, they can start reading the books that you love, and that can also open up a whole relationship.”
“Reading widely can also come in the form of listening to audiobooks, reading ebooks rather than paperbacks, or even video games with a strong narrative,” Pamela says. “Any way that the child consumes a story is okay.”
2. Give thoughtful, useful feedback
If your teenager offers to share their work with you, Pamela says you should think carefully about how you frame your response. Identify something specific that is good about it, and mention anything that has confused you.
“People often don't realise what is good about something; we’re our own worst critics,” she says. “But we also don't realise that we haven't put on the page what we thought we put on the page, and that something's not clear to the reader.
“Specific positive feedback could be saying that their description of a place is very evocative, or a piece of dialogue is hilarious, or a specific character is interesting and makes you want to read more. That kind of feedback will help demonstrate that you take their writing seriously,” Pamela says.
3. Help your teen see writing as a daily practice, whatever form it takes
Rebecca Lee assists in developing courses at the Australian Writers’ Centre. She also tutors high school students in English in NSW and suggests helping students build writing into their everyday routine, whether it’s in the form of a journal or diary, making lists, or in what they might write on social media.
“Students often say that they don’t have anything to write about because they don’t do anything interesting, so making them write something down helps them be introspective and realise that they do have something to say,” says Rebecca.
“Note down all the times and all the instances in your day that you write,” she says. “It will be shorter clips of writing, in the form of text messages and Instagram captions and Facebook posts. But it's writing nonetheless. Get them to unpack that and string together a bunch of different posts until it becomes a bigger piece of writing.”
Is your teenager a budding author? Our Teenage Creative Writers’ Program has been designed for young writers keen to learn the craft of writing for both school and their personal writing projects.