As a parent, you've been known to come up with a good idea once in a while. And if you're lucky, your kids may even tell you so. Such a day is certainly on your horizon: the day your child receives, rips open and reads his first letter from a pen pal you helped find and foster.
The Benefits of Being a Pen Pal
In this era of social media, you understand a troubling reality: many kids spend a lot of time making superficial connections on their phones and less time forging meaningful relationships that can inform, entertain, comfort and reassure them as they grow up. A pen pal can bridge this gap while addressing two items on your “hidden agenda”: exposing your child to expressing ideas and writing in cursive (unless he prevails upon you to use email instead).
Pen Pals May Be Circling Your Orbit
Given the hectic pace of your life, you may be wondering how you'll find time to locate a willing and reliable pen pal for your child. In fact, if the two of you sit down and discuss the possibilities, the most difficult part of this task will be addressed. Much like writing a letter, generating ideas is often the toughest part.
Once you compile a list of potential pen pals, your child will probably need you to track them down, or contact the parents. Propose a pen pal arrangement to the other child's parents. Think of yourself as a “pen pal matchmaker” among candidates who may be circling your child's orbit right now. There are several places to look:
Your child's school. Even if you don't live in a transient area, your child is likely to know someone from her kindergarten class who has since moved away. Thumb through class yearbooks and identify children who spawn happy memories in your child.
Your child's principal. Running a school puts a principal in touch with a wide range of people. For example, some schools forge “sister school” partnerships with same-named schools in other cities or states that may be ripe for the creation of a pen pal program.
Your child's extracurricular activities. The next time you attend a sporting event, ask your child to point out someone he has struck up a conversation with. Do the same for summer camps, day camps or lessons your child has taken with other children. To you, chatting with someone from a neighboring community may be no big deal, but your child's view of the world is smaller. Encourage him to strike up a pen pal relationship with a child he meets through these activities. It can expand his horizon in enlightening ways.
Your church. You may get more than you bargain for – in a good way – by reaching out to your pastor about children in other parishes who would enjoy forging a pen pal relationship with your child. He might even be able to put you in touch with organizations, missions and other outreach groups that cater to children in other countries.
Consider a Pen Pal Website
If the prospect of broadening your child's world view appeals to you, consider registering with an online pen pal service such as InterPals, which draws people from more than 100 countries. Alternatively, put your child in touch with a military service member through Adopt a U.S. Soldier or Soldiers' Angels.
Proceed With Caution
Choosing a reputable pen pal website for kids should breed some confidence in you as a parent, but not complacency. Remember that even though the person your child is conversing with may be trustworthy, other, less savory characters may have access to the same computer. Keep your guard up by:
- Talking with your child about the topics that are appropriate for young pen pals to discuss online.
- Forbidding your child from sharing personal information, such as your address and phone number, at least until you feel confident that you have taken full measure of the pen pal's character.
- Instructing your child to tell you immediately if an online conversation makes him uncomfortable in any way.* Monitoring the exchanges – or at least being in the room when your child reads a message from an online pen pal. You already know: there is no substitute for keeping the lines of communication open when it comes to the safety and well-being of your child.
- You may have to dig in some unlikely places before finding pen pals for kids that are safe. Take the time, because safety is worth it!
- Make sure your child corresponds in a safe, supervised manner.
Mary Wroblewski earned a master's degree with high honors in communications and has worked as a reporter and editor in two Chicago newsrooms. She launched her own small business, which specialized in assisting small business owners with “all things marketing” – from drafting a marketing plan and writing website copy to crafting media plans and developing email campaigns. Mary writes extensively about small business issues, and especially “all things marketing.”
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