Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Guest post: Carla V. on Teens and Handwriting


My 16-year old practices his signature.
My 16-year old practices his signature.

Another Parenting Failure? My Kids Hate Handwriting
Carla V

Some days I look at my kids’ notebooks and marvel at how badly they write. Not the content but the actual penmanship. As high school students you’d expect some hurried writing but what I’m seeing is an immaturity in the formation of letters – and I’m talking printing. Forget about cursive – they can’t be bothered with what they consider obsolete.

I get it though, they have lots of homework and no one is giving penmanship ribbons like they did in my day. (I have 3.) But over the Christmas holidays, when I was writing quick notes on the back of some of our Christmas cards, I realized they couldn’t even read my cursive writing. I panicked. I thought, “Oh my God, this is close to illiteracy.”

I tried to overcorrect by pushing my quality pens and paper on them, but they found my interest in pens and paper to be just another facet of my quirky tastes, along with telenovelas and the “Bye Bye Birdie” soundtrack.

Not wanting to give up, I bribed them. For just 10 minutes a day of handwriting practice they could get whatever dessert they wanted at the end of the week. My daughter committed to the deal and for weeks she copied passages out her John Green or Ann Brashares books. Slowly, her cursive improved. Smooth curves and uniform strokes emerged. I felt vindicated until the day she walked into my office and announced she was done with sweets and done with writing practice, as if both were bad habits.

This summer my 16-year old son reached a couple of milestones: getting his driver’s license and his first summer job. He filled out all the forms by hand just fine but even he could see that his new driver’s license was marred by his shaky signature which looks like a third grader’s. “I should have worked on that,” he said. So I conveniently placed some inked fountain pens and a Rhodia dotpad on the coffee table near the TV remotes. And sometimes when I tidied before bed I’d see rows of his signature, with shaky loops as bent as tree branches but he kept trying. Now that school has started he’s lost interest and in the morning I’m only finding fresh blank pages and perfectly capped pens.

My kids and I still debate the merits of handwriting. I have a list of opinions that are important to me: handwriting is a basic skill, it’s satisfying to slow down and write something thoughtful, it’s easier to remember things when you take notes by hand, pens and paper can be so fun to use. My kids say printing is fine sometimes, but computers and smartphones have made cursive writing unnecessary. Plus, our school district seems to agree. I wish I’d paid attention sooner. Their good grades and enthusiasm for school were enough for me. Now I don’t have as much influence over the kids and they’ve moved on.

Recently, we moved some furniture around and I had the space to move an older computer table into the dining room. There’s no computer there but I do keep a few Rhodia pads, greeting cards and a variety of nice pens handy. Of course, I end up using it the most but my husband and kids venture over there from time to time when they have to write a shopping list, a thank you note, or a birthday card. I am consoled by the fact that there is a small writing environment where we have to slow down and think about what we’re going to write. And this holiday season I’m going to get some gold and silver colored gel ink pens for the pencil cup on the writing desk and ask my kids to share some of the note-writing on the back of our pre-imprinted Christmas cards. Hopefully our friends and family will be able to decipher their handwriting.

(I am a freelance writer, social media content manager, wife, and mom to 2 wonderful, challenging teenagers. I’m a pen and stationery addict and share my hobby on Instagram as @desktoptoys.)

2 thoughts on “Guest post: Carla V. on Teens and Handwriting

  1. Good, if scary, post. I know I should be more understanding. This is a different world for them. Still, I am making an effort to learn to use their tools proficiently. I see value in those tools. I wish they would see value in our tools. I agree that, as a whole, society will miss something cognitively and perhaps historically, if we lose this skill. I don’t think we’re talking about how to build a trebuchet here: a skill most can probably live without. We’re talking about a fundamental skill of the human hand, one of the things that ultimately marks us as language users. We process language in several ways. Writing by hand is just one way. We need them all.

    I had someone blast me on a writing site, “Why would anyone use pen and paper or a typewriter when they have computers?” I patiently explained that different tools do different jobs. You don’t use a hammer the same way you use a screwdriver. They can ultimately achieve similar goals but through subtly different methods that can make a big difference in the quality of the piece. Neither is better than the other, but one might be better for one task while the other is needed for a more delicate assembly. This is true of writing tools. For me, the pen and paper are for rough assembly; the laptop is for refining.

    I am trying to emulate for my three-year-old granddaughter, as I know you have for your kids, the value and enjoyment of writing. We sit and color together when she is here and she and her mother color together at home. She will scribble madly sometimes, but when she watches us use our fine motor skills she quickly reins hers in and concentrates. When my daughter writes, my granddaughter pretends to write, making little, tight squiggly lines that resemble physicians handwriting. At some point, though, I know she will be driven to the technology that already intrigues her and life will get busy and quite possibly she won’t care much about it. I hope by then I’ve instilled enough interest in writing that she’ll at least be like her mother and care about form and content if not actual productivity. My daughter hated it all as a child because she suffers what I believe is mild dyslexia. Now that she has grown up, she works at it, she enjoys it, and she makes an art of her occasional lettering.

    Sorry to go on. You struck a chord. :)

  2. As a high schooler, I find it extremely important to have good penmanship. Sure, there’s computers to get notes or essays done, but what happens when those are gone? Not only that but it feels more genuine to have that nice hand-written sheet of paper with you. It just feels more real.
    I like having neat and readable handwriting in both cursive and print. At the start of every summer, I end up ordering some notebooks and pens online to get me through the next three months and I practice writing just so everything is neatly written during the next school year and doesn’t feel like I’ve not held a pen in ages (which is completely worth the Writer’s Hand).

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