"WUT UP GRL?"
"K BYE!! LYL"
Confused by the conversation above? Don't be surprised. A 2010 Nielsen study revealed that American teens text at least six times per waking hour—and as they rely more and more on texts, tweets and IMs to communicate, they usher in a new era of conversation based on speed and convenience over proper pronunciation and grammar. Case in point: "laughing out loud" becomes "LOL," "later" becomes "L8R," and "got to go" becomes "G2G." Before you know it, conversations with your tween sound more like alphabet soup than civilized dialogue.
Though it may not seem like a big deal now, raising a well-spoken child has many advantages. Eloquence makes it easier to read and write well, which gives well-spoken students a leg up in English class and on standardized tests. It's also a valuable asset in college and job interviews, not to mention relationships down the line. As a parent, it's essential that you guide your kid through the soup of LOL's and L8R's and toward the path to articulate adulthood. Here are seven quick tips to get your little one's tongue wagging in the right direction.
- Book by book. Reading's the fastest and easiest way to boost vocabulary skills at any age, so make it a habit for everyone in your house. Plan frequent trips to the library and stock up at the bookstore before road trips. Don't fret if your teen opts for Pretty Little Liars over Pretty Women—it's more important that she choose material that interests her to keep her hooked on books. The American Library Association reports that "young adult literature is a vibrant, growing genre with much to offer today's teens." Popular picks for young adults include The Hunger Games and Twilight series.
- Speak up. Family conversations around the dinner table offer a perfect opportunity to practice speaking skills. Skip stale standards like, "How was your day?" Instead, try a game in which each person shares the "rose" (something good), "thorn" (something unfortunate), and "bud" (something new) from their day. This activity helps to keep the conversation moving, but be sure to establish a "no phone" policy at the table. That way, your teen won't be distracted from family chatter by "txts" from her BFF.
- Bee involved. Help your kid seek out activities that value proper speech, such as spelling bees, a debate team or drama club. If you don't see many opportunities for your child to hone her speaking skills in your community, talk with the local school board or administrators about starting a class play or district spelling bee. Or, host a spell-off for your kid and her friends, complete with word-themed treats.
- Use your tools. Dig up that musty thesaurus or dictionary for a lesson on words. Spice up your speech with high-level vocabulary—"that violin practice sounds mellifluous!"—and direct your tween to the dictionary to clarify what you mean. Make it a game by challenging kids to try to stump you with buzzwords of their own—and doling out tiny treats when they're successful!
- Write. Encourage your kid to put pencil to paper and write the "old-fashioned" way to help build speaking skills. Keep your eyes open for opportunities, such as birthday and holiday invitations, thank you notes and even grocery lists! For more structured writing, try setting your child up with a pen pal. Knowing there's someone waiting for her thoughts will help your budding J.K. Rowling commit to regular letters and teach her to value each word she puts in.
- Limit tech time. Take a break from your wired world by scheduling screen-free time for the family each week. Show your child that taking time to unplug is critical: you're not likely to get far in a face-to-face conversation with Facebook chat or Twitter speak. Opt for fresh air instead with outdoors activities. Picnics, hikes and camping trips offer great chances to catch up without an outlet or monitor in sight.
- Find role models. Consider your child's favorite artist or song: probably not a model of articulation and eloquence. While there's nothing wrong with letting your kid explore her own musical taste, it's important to offer up examples of well-spoken idols as well. Finding articulate role models can be as simple as listening to talk radio in the car together or tuning in to a political candidate you admire. Show her that you admire eloquent speakers, and she'll eventually learn to do the same.
Though parents often try to keep up with their tweens by learning the latest lingo (ROFL, anyone?), many more feel left behind and out of the communication loop. Instead of feeling frustrated, give your texters the chance to be more articulate with the tips and tools above. Raising well-spoken kids not only offers lasting benefits for your child, but makes it possible for the two of you to communicate without a text or tweet in sight! Truly something to feel GR8 about.