Pen Pals and Social Media

posted Mar 15, 2016, 7:39 AM by Bruce Gaughran   [ updated Mar 15, 2016, 7:40 AM ]

When I was in grade school, my teacher encouraged our class to participate in a Pen Pal program. She felt it would improve our reading and writing skills, and help us learn more about how children live in other countries. I selected a girl in my age group from Germany. We exchanged pictures of our families and wrote about our lives. Our teacher collected our letters, read them, and mailed them for us. (A pretty good check and balance system) Wikipedia has a good primer on Pen Pals.

In those days, it took about two weeks for mail to travel halfway around the world. Because letters only arrived about once a month, it wasn’t a burden to take the tine to respond. I remember how special it was to receive mail from my Pen Pal. She not only explained what it was like to live on a farm in Germany, but also what children of her age did to have fun. I found out her world wasn’t much different from mine. I shared these letters with my parents since my mother was from Germany.

This brings me to the topic. I Googled “Pen Pals” and checked our several sites that have Pen Pal programs. I also noticed they have expanded the program to include writing service men and women stationed overseas as well as prisoners. The latter is for adults only. Whew.  

I am curious how the Pen Pal program works with email and social media since many children have their own tablet or smartphone, or at least have access to the internet. Do these programs still use snail mail? With current technology, instead of having to wait two weeks or more for the mail to arrive, a person can communicate real-time or close to it anyway. Also, there is no teacher reviewing what a child writes.

We have all heard stories about the potential dangers of children using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Not everyone who comes across as a child is a child. Their motives for communicating with a child are not innocent. Parental or teacher supervision, no matter what the technology, should still be mandatory.