4 ways to reach your teen in 140 characters or less

Teen girl checking texts on her phone

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It’s hard enough to get our kids to listen to what we say in person — but when we try to reach out to them via text, email or messenger, there is even more competing for their attention.

Here are some ways to cut through the electronic clutter so your messages to your teens and pre-teens actually get through.

By Lisa Jander

Make your email count: 4 ways to reach your teen

“It took me a half hour to write that and you just deleted it! Really? Without even looking at it?”

I had created a monster. Well, not really — more like a situation.

My daughter hates to read, so sending her an email was just one more way for her to ignore me. Why would I expect her to enjoy my diatribe on the computer when she could be adding friends on social media instead? What was I thinking?

Well, the answer is simple: I was thinking like an adult, not a teen. An efficient, controlling, parental unit that felt entitled to use 2,500 words to adjust my daughter’s attitude in writing. In reality, it was my attitude that needed adjusting.

Sometimes, it was not a rant. I would spend hours looking for clever videos or stunning articles to forward to her in the hopes of influencing her decisions.

After numerous unopened emails, I decided to make a change. New rule: send videos under 3 minutes, and only cut and paste short article excerpts with a quota of 1 per month. Ouch.

The good news is, she reads them now. All of them. Because I am finally under control!

Tips for parents texting teens

Things to ponder:

1. Age-appropriate: Email is typically used for younger children not on social media, or older teens getting ready to launch. Keep in mind the age of the child you are addressing: do more for the younger, and less for the older.

Don’t: Lecture in writing to teens.

Do: Have someone else read it for tone if the topic is difficult.

2. Let an expert talk. Think how many times your own mother told you a simple truth that, well, you rejected. Then some complete stranger tells you the exact same thing in different words, and you are now sporting a brilliant LED lightbulb above your head. Sometimes the messenger is reason.

Don’t: Chrissie, I know you are only in 7th grade but I read an article about the soccer camp you are interested and this is what they said, “First, if you want to get a soccer scholarship for college…” (You restate the entire article in your words, not theirs) (1,675 words)

Do: Chrissie, interesting article/video on soccer camp I thought you might like. www.keepitshort (86)

3. W.I.I.F.M. What’s in it for me? Teens want to know why they should pay attention. There should be some value to them or the email will be ignored. Find a way to draw your teen into the importance by looking at it from their perspective and add a catchy subject line.

Don’t: Subject line: “Great video about cats that I thought you would really like” Hey Josh, I saw this video about really cute cats I wanted you to watch. I know you hate cats, but I think this one is so cute that I thought it might change your mind! (230 words)

Do: Subject line: “Hilarious!” Best soccer fails (link) (37)

4. Bullet points: When you need to send a lengthy and/or serious email with vital information, put the content in bullet points for easy scanning.

Don’t: Hayden, I wanted to be sure you have all the information you need to apply for the afterschool program that we talked about last night at dinner. First, it is important for you to make sure you are wearing the appropriate… (160 words)

Do: Afterschool program:

  1. Download this application (link)
  2. Complete and sign
  3. Feel free to ask questions before you apply
  4. Happy to help! (140)

Keep in mind, you are not communicating with executives — kids want short and sweet and real. And, of course, always parent in person when you can.

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

We're Nancy and Betsy, and we've been adventuring in the digital world since the mid-90s -- truly making us that type of entrepreneurial internet pioneer Gen X is known for! We started Myria.com back in 1998 and later launched SheKnows.com -- among various other online and print projects. Our partnership has spanned decades and crossed state lines (multiple times!). Nancy currently resides Arizona, and Betsy's newest home base is Minnesota. It's been an incredible journey of collaboration and innovation. You can read more about our story here!

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