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Teens need to improve their email skills for the future

When your mac won’t print, the WiFi goes out, or your iPhone won’t update, the first line of defense is a teenager. Teens today are practically walking experts in the world of technology, excluding one glaring arena: email.

Have you ever watched a teen construct an email? It’s painful. Lowercase letters dominate would-be capitalization; words like “you” get all texty and slide in as u; they’re void of formal greetings and salutations. I could go on.

That said, it’s not their fault.

As adults, we take email for granted. It’s ingrained into the fiber of our daily and expected communication process. Yet, despite its value, email is one of the most under-emphasized skills taught today.

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Email is critical for your teenager throughout high school, during the college admissions process, in college and on into their job hunt, and still, we barely show them how to do it.

Every teen needs a respectable and identifiable email account. Yes, in third grade newportsurfer135@whatever.com was cute, but as a teenager communicating with teachers, potential employers or admissions officials, it screams immaturity.

Avoid sophomoric monikers at all costs. So now they have email. Check. But just because they have it doesn’t mean they’ll use it. A mother recently told a story of her son who went weeks without knowing he was admitted to his dream school because they notified him via email. Thus, part of the training process is establishing the routine of checking it. Regularly.

A typical teen approaches email with a what’s-the-point mind frame. Why? It’s slow and outdated, in the same way I view snail mail. They don’t use it frequently, if at all, and when tasked with sending an email, upon the realization that there are no emojis, they can’t even. And so, a really poorly constructed email is born.

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So what’s the big deal?

On the school front, email is vital when documenting and clarifying a teen’s educational needs. As the teens draft their first few emails parents should review them to ensure the message is communicated clearly. Obviously, no parent should be drafting emails for their teen, nor reviewing them in the long term, but as the skill is crafted, oversight and feedback have lasting positive results.

As a teacher, I loved emails from students. Really? Yes. Most of my inbox was dominated by peers or parents. So students who could communicate clearly and succinctly were a breath of fresh air for an overworked and inundated teacher. When students emailed me, it provided me with valuable feedback and insight.

In times of conflict or misunderstanding, a well-worded email from a student effectively front-loads and disarms the teacher. This is a welcome reprieve from the drive-by approach from a nervous or emotional student during passing period or class; both of which can often be perceived as an ambush or inappropriate.

Emails to teachers typically result in invitations to meet. A scheduled appointment reduces anxiety as the student feels expected and welcome. Once together, and based on the email, the content of the student-teacher meeting is more efficient and productive.

This leads to the obvious counterpunch of what happens when the teacher won’t or doesn’t respond. Email is great in that all emails are time-stamped and clear evidence that the student is trying to resolve the issue at hand.

No, you can’t guarantee the teacher’s actions, but students can position themselves advantageously by polite, meaningful and regular emails on the matter at hand. Even unanswered emails can prevent the too-little-too-late scenarios that noncommunicative students face. It’s one thing when students make no attempt to resolve issues prior to report cards, and quite another when they do.

Finally, there is the transference of this skill to other aspects of a teen’s future life. During the college admissions process, the concept of expressed interest is becoming increasingly meaningful to admissions officials. In short, it’s how many times the applicant made contact beyond simply applying. Correspondence is a large piece of this concept, and email is the bread and butter.

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A comment from a college senior on my article from last week read, "...emails between yourself and the professor are the most important factors in college. They are crucial. Learning to utilize these skills in high school will be incredibly beneficial for your college career, rather than having to learn them once you’re there.” Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Of course, we could ride this email analogy straight out of college and into the workforce. Communication skills, including email, are undeniably valuable in the success of your teen, future college student and gainfully employed young adult.

Better get crackin’.

DANIEL PATTERSON, a former Newport-Mesa Unified administrator, recently launched Patterson Perspective Inc., a consulting company specializing in teenagers, education, college planning and parenting.


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