Handwritten notes are meaningful. They carry more weight than a text or Facebook message, they are more timeless than a phone call or a spoken compliment. I am always amazed to discover students that have a note I’d written them months or even years prior. Heck, I even hang onto them for encouragement.
For a note to become a cherished reminder, it has to have substance. Here are some tips for writing notes to teenagers:
1) Use their name
This one seems obvious, but can get missed. When a student walks into your church, the best thing you can do is greet them by name. It conveys that you care about them. Our names carry meaning. The same is true for a note, be sure that the outside of the envelope isn’t the only place they see their name.
2) Start with them
It is natural to start with “I” as the first word of your note. “I just wanted to say you’re a great person” or “I am so glad you’re in our group.” While those are fine sentiments, they can mean even more if you take yourself out of the equation. “You are a great person” or “It is wonderful to have you in the group.” These declarative statements sound less like an opinion and more like a fact, which makes them even more encouraging.
3) Be specific
When writing an encouraging note, the more specific you can be the more encouraging it will be. “Thanks for helping out last night” is fine, but you can go the extra mile by saying something like, “The way you were willing to take out the garbage last night is just another example of how selfless and servant-hearted you are.” Take time to explain what you’re encouraging.
4) Be candid.
A note provides an opportunity to say things that might feel awkward face-to-face. For a generation that’s grown up texting, it can be hard to know how to react in a face-to-face conversation. While that doesn’t mean we should stop saying things directly to students (in fact, it’s probably even more important that we keep that up), a note let’s the students respond naturally to what you have to say without worrying about how you’re interpreting their response. You need to be straightforward. You can gauge what that means in the context of your relationship with whichever student you’re writing to, but don’t be afraid to say what you really mean. Students have plenty of straightforward attacks coming their way, provide ammunition to fight back by saying, “I care about you” or “you are always welcome here.” I’d rather have a student think it was awkward that I said I love them than have one that isn’t sure if I do.
5) Be brief.
You don’t need to write a dissertation, in fact you don’t even need a whole page. Some of the most meaningful notes I’ve ever received were only 4 or 5 sentences long. Brevity is rewarded in an encouraging note, it makes your point stick instead of getting lost in the noise. It demonstrates that you are confident in what you’re saying.
Here is a sample note that uses these 5 principles.
You were a great example to the group last night. Thank you for being willing to share your story, I know it wasn’t easy, but it was really good for everyone to hear where you are coming from. You are helping some of the other teens deal with difficult things in their own life, and God is using you to change their lives. I hope you know that I admire your courage, and that I’m grateful you are in our group.
You are loved,
Short, sweet, and to the point. It took all of 2 minutes to write, but a note like this can echo through a student’s life for years. Take some time today and write an encouraging note.