With the holidays behind us, ‘tis the season for thank-you notes. One reason teens have a hard time writing them is because they start off with the wrong attitude. They think of it as a chore instead of an opportunity. Opportunity? Yes, to make the gift-giver feel wonderful. This is important since people who feel wonderful are more likely to keep giving you gifts.
So, here’s a primer for teens on acknowledging the kind and generous deeds of others.
There are only two ways to receive a gift given in person:
1. with great pleasure
2. with greater pleasure
Response #1 is for gifts you don’t particularly like. It involves a warm smile, a look of delight and surprise, and expressions of gratitude such as:
“Thank you so much.”
“This will look so nice in my room.”
“I’ll sure stay warm in these.”
For gifts you do like, use response #2. Wear an ear-to-ear grin. Let your jaw fall open and your eyes bug out. Remain speechless for a second or two as words fail you. Run around the room a few times. Do cartwheels. Say “I can’t believe it” and “Oh, wow!” over and over while you try to regain control of your conscious mind. Then let loose a torrent of thanks:
“This is S-O-O-O-O fabulous!”
“I’ve wanted one of these forever and ever!”
“This is the greatest present!”
“I’ve never seen one this beautiful in my whole life!”
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
For the grand finale, shower the giver with hugs and kisses (unless it’s, like, your dentist or mother’s boss).
You’ll notice that these responses do more than just show gratitude. They make the person who gave you the present feel like giving you another one. This is a lovely by-product of the proper expression of thanks.
For gifts exchanged in person where you can convey your unbounded delight and gratitude directly to the giver, it is usually not necessary to send a written thank-you note (although doing so will elevate you to the Grateful Youth Hall of Fame).
If you’re not sure whether to write a thank-you note, write one. It’s better to over-thank than under-thank. Written thanks are obligatory for gifts received by mail, delivery, Internet, or Pony Express; gifts brought to an event to be unwrapped later; and gifts in discreetly passed envelopes containing cash (my favorites!). You should also write notes for services rendered, hospitality provided, and kindnesses extended.
While written thanks aren’t required every time a courtesy is provided, they might be in order after a period of time has passed. For example, let’s say a friend’s mother drives you to sports practice twice a week for an entire school year. Your verbal thanks each time are sufficient. But if you send her a note in June to recognize the cumulative value of her chauffeuring services, she’ll think you’re the greatest. The same goes for a teacher who has meant a lot to you over the year.
Here are some tips for writing terrific thank-you notes:
Write immediately. Thank-you notes get exponentially more difficult to write with each day that passes. By the second day, they are four times harder to write. By the third day, they are nine times harder, and if you wait 12 days, they are 144 times harder to write!
Write by hand. Use personal stationery or attractive cards (the ones that are blank inside). However, if your handwriting is atrocious, it’s better to send a laser-printed, personally signed letter than none at all.
Consider alternative forms of communication. I know that the thought of a hand-written note makes some teens break out in a cold sweat. So, despite the fact that writing by hand carries on a centuries-old tradition as the sine qua non (look it up) of thank yous, today’s nifty digital world presents grateful teens with other acceptable methods for conveying thanks (no point denying the march of technology):
- Send a warm and thoughtful text message.
- Send a warm and thoughtful email.
- Send a warm and thoughtful private message.
- Send a digital thank you from one of those websites with animated cards. Be sure to
include a personal note.
Never begin with “Thank you for . . . .” Start with some news, a recollection of the event or visit, a reaffirmation of your friendship, or other charming chitchat.
Always mention the gift by name. If I give somebody a wedding present and get a letter back that simply thanks me for my “wonderful and generous gift,” I know it’s a form letter they cranked out. Even if it’s handwritten. Make the effort to refer to the gift in some way:
“All my friends are jealous of my new talking sneakers.”
“You must have read my mind to know I wanted a garlic press.”
“I’m absolutely thrilled with my Chia pet.”
Always mention special moments. If the gift was one of hospitality, you must send a note, even if you thanked your hosts during the visit. When you write, don’t just say “Thanks for letting me stay with you.” Mention the places they took you to, the memories you’ll always cherish. Let your hosts know what made the visit so special: falling into the river, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, your selfie with Mickey Mouse. Then, and only then, thank them for their thoughtfulness and generosity. You’ll make a fine impression, bring smiles to their faces, and guarantee that you’ll have a standing invitation to return.
Tell how you’re going to spend the money. If someone gives you the big green, mention what you plan to do with it. If you have no idea, make something up:
“I’m planning to buy some guitar strings that I’ve been wanting for ages.”
“I’m saving for a car, and this gives me a real boost.”
Don’t spoil your thanks with a bummer. Not every gift will be to your liking. Sometimes this is nobody’s fault. Avoid saying things that let gift-givers know their efforts were unappreciated or pointless:
“I lost it the first time I took it to school.”
“It hit a tree and broke.”
“I got hives so my mom made me throw it out.”
Well, that just about covers it. If these tips have been helpful, I await your thank you notes!
Adapted from How Rude! by Alex J. Packer, copyright © 2014. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.