The 'thank you note': child's edition
January 24, 2012 10:03 PM   Subscribe

At what age (if any) should a child/young adult be expected to address the envelope of a thank you note sent through the mail?

I don't have kids, and am old enough to tell you to get off my lawn. Should an intelligent junior high school student that is being forced to handwrite a thank you note be similarly forced to address the note's envelope? Does it even matter if the envelope is addressed by the child's parent?
posted by Napoleonic Terrier to Human Relations (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Who cares?

I'm not saying that to be snarky about your question and avoid answering it.

In my opinion, that IS the answer to your question. The envelope is not part of the thank-you note. People throw out envelopes, but they (sometimes) keep cards and letters. And because I can't imagine why anyone receiving a thank-you note would care who addressed the envelope, the answer is that, no, it doesn't matter who addresses the envelope.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:08 PM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

seconding j. wilson's typically sensible response, but if i am catching your drift (which i'm probably not) i would say yes, it's kind of lazy for a junior high kid not be able to swing an envelope. i was doing my own when i was about 7 or 8. but of course, who knows in a particular case what's happening with a particular kid? you'd have to be more specific.
posted by facetious at 10:11 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he can write legibly, he should be the person who addresses the envelope, sure. Jr. High is definitely big-boy territory. Also, I never pay attention to my own address on the envelope beyond a quick glance to be sure it's my name.
posted by heyho at 10:12 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

It may be time for the person who is annoyed by this to let it go, because we probably are at a point where learning how to properly address an envelope is a mildly esoteric skill, and not up there with shoe tying as something you have to know or they hold you back in second grade. I'll not say that a kid who's 13 now will never have to address a letter in their life, but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have to until they were paying rent on their first apartment, and even then that's only if they live in the US (other countries don't use personal checks). So I don't think it's necessarily a reflection on their intelligence or courtesy. That said, it's not exactly rocket science either, and if you're going to pick on somebody I'd pick on the kid's parents, and needle them about why they didn't make the kid do the envelope, too.

Short answer: You can make fun of them for it b/c it's not like it's hard, but you can't be mad at them b/c not knowing it doesn't mean they're stupid or astonishingly ignorant in this day and age.
posted by Diablevert at 10:13 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is ungracious of the recipient of a thank-you note to perform a handwriting analysis.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:14 PM on January 24, 2012 [35 favorites]

I think junior high is plenty old enough to tell a child "It's your choice, as always, but I advise you to think carefully about your consequences of not sending the note." My first instinct would be to look at the kid like he/she's a moron and say "Well, if you don't put the address on the envelope, it's not gonna get to Grandma's." Good thing I don't have kids, right?
posted by infinitewindow at 10:15 PM on January 24, 2012

I agree with the other answers and would also like to point out that there might be other reasons for not addressing the envelope besides laziness/ignorance. Several times when I was writing thank you notes several years ago I wouldn't know the address of the person so my mother would have to call them later (because it was one of her friend's or something like that) or somehow get the address. Then it would just be easier for her to write it on the envelope instead of just writing it on a slip of paper for me to transcribe later.
posted by Deflagro at 10:19 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Junior high implies an age of 11 or so or older. I would hope an 11 year old kid could write an address on an envelope. I don't think the few minutes it takes to look up an address and write it on an envelope is too taxing of a job for a child of that age.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:22 PM on January 24, 2012

IMO, if by junior high a kid doesn't already know how to a) address an envelope properly and b) write a goddamn thank you note to somebody instead of a cursory email, said kid needs to learn how right away.

My cousin is 16 and my aunt and uncle send thank you letters FOR HIM because his lazy ass is too important to do it himself and because they never made him practice. the little shit.

...says the eternally crotchety, childless teacher in training who is often appalled by her students' lack of manners and gratitude towards others and does not want children of her own as a result... my dogs will write thank you letters like nobody's business though, I can promise you that!
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:23 PM on January 24, 2012

It doesn't matter, but they should be able to. Tell him you're going to call him "dude" in front of his friends from now on. "Dude, come on..." You could get them an address book of their own, too.
posted by rhizome at 10:25 PM on January 24, 2012

Interesting question. It never occurred to me that the envelope was not part of the letter-writing exercise. We were taught to do this in school and I think it was second grade. I had a pen-pal in third and fourth grade and the envelopes were important because we each liked the foreign stamps nearly as much as the letters. Of course we also danced around the Maypole on May Day and walked six or seven blocks to school by ourselves. I do realize the world has changed.

I'd still say if the child is old enough to write, the child can write a thank you note and envelope.
posted by Anitanola at 10:40 PM on January 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Have some sympathy for the poor parent who is trying to get his/her kid to perform basic social courtesies. Since the child has to do the actual printing, (you can't actually force it in terms of taping a pen to their hand and then move the arm through the motions of writing) getting a thank you note written requires the cooperation of the child. Depending on the child, that can be as simple as a single reminder or as complicated as extensive nagging, threats, consequences and conflict.
By the time the parent manages to see that the thank-you note has actually been written (with legible handwriting and more than one sentence long) and he or she may not have the energy to continue the battle long enough to produce an addressed envelope as well.

Or it might not be an issue of rebellion or ingratitude, it might be an issue with fine motor control, dysgraphia, or other learning issues that might make even a short note a big challenge. Or maybe the kid is struggling in school and by the time the homework is done, neither parent nor child wants to make writing the thank-you note any harder than necessary.

The answer is that you and I have no idea what is really going on. Might as well make up an scenario that makes you feel sympathetic than one that makes you feel resentful.
posted by metahawk at 10:58 PM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

A Middle School student should address his/her own envelopes. I have seen cases where the thank you writer wrote the names of the addressee, but the parent filled in the street address and city/state.
posted by AugustWest at 11:00 PM on January 24, 2012

Addressing the envelope is part of the overall process of sending a letter. I'd just look at the kid and ask, "I don't have anything to say to them, it's not my letter. Why would I address it?"
posted by hermitosis at 11:24 PM on January 24, 2012

I agree with the above posters who said that generally, a child should start addressing envelopes as soon as they're old enough to do so legibly. That said, if I got a handwritten thank you note from a kid (or anyone) in the mail, I wouldn't be offended if I saw that, for some reason, someone else had addressed the envelope. This is mostly a non-issue.
posted by naturalog at 11:25 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Honestly, depends on the kid -- some junior high schoolers I know wouldn't have legible enough handwriting for the note to be delivered if they addressed it themselves.
posted by spunweb at 11:45 PM on January 24, 2012

Are you going to do a DNA analysis to find out if the kid licked the stamp himself too? C'mon now, the envelope doesn't matter.
posted by jamaro at 12:15 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can he? - I know number of College-age kids (in College) who can barely write anything legibly. They pretty much think they don't have to.

Should he? - I think so. At some point he will have to address an envelope by himself.
posted by carter at 3:28 AM on January 25, 2012

I can tell you how it works with MY junior high kid.

Grandma sends him a really weird Pokemon sweater (he loved Pokemon when he was 6 but is way too old for them now, according to him, although I catch him reading the cartoons sometimes. But anyway...).

I tell him that he needs to send Grandma a thank you card. He says, "I will LATER!"

I remind him that he needs to send Grandma a thank you card but this time I get out the notecards.

He says, "I already told you, I will LATER!"

Several days pass, play practice takes over his life, then soccer practice, then going to Anil's house because he got an awesome new video game, then it's the weekend and he has a shitton of homework, then it's suddenly 2 weeks later.

At this point, the cats have knocked the thank you card on to the kitchen floor and thrown up on it.

I get another card and say, "Sit down, you evil little monster. Grandma will never send you anything nice again if you don't thank her NOW."

He says, "It was a STUPID sweater! I don't WANT a Pikachu sweater! It's dumb! What is WRONG with Grandma, anyway?"

I cannot argue the validity of this point so I press on, "It's just polite. Now do the fricking card before I make up an arbitrary punishment and you'll be sorry in some way."

Grumbling, he sits down. He says, "I don't know what to say! You do it! It's a stupid sweater! Argh! Why are you torturing me? You're the meanest mom in the world!!"

He then writes, "Dear Grandma, Thank you for the sweater. Love, Kinetic Jr."

I say, "Christ! That wasn't so hard, was it?" Then I take a Tylenol and go to bed, muttering about how I've raised an ingrateful monster beast.

The next morning, I grab the card that has once again been knocked to the floor by our evil felines, address and mail it, because I can only do so much before I explode. And if my mom got back to me with a complaint that she can tell I addressed the envelope and the thank you note is thereby invalid, I'd collapse into a pool of tears.
posted by kinetic at 3:31 AM on January 25, 2012 [41 favorites]

Does not matter. Maybe the parent had to look up the address, maybe the child wasn't sure how to spell your name, maybe somebody's pen ran out of ink, maybe the first envelope was singed in a fire and then replaced after the death of the letter writer, maybe the child is not as intelligent as you thought. Maybe quit rummaging around searching for arbitrary things to be insulted by.
posted by milk white peacock at 3:42 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

This was a pet peeve of my husband's - before he became a stepfather to a mildly dysgraphic boy. Said boy is now a high school senior who writes thoughtful, funny, and prompt thank you notes that look as if they were penned by a 7 year old. Except for rare exceptions (interviews, notes to teachers) I'll do the envelopes. I file this neatly under Battles Not Worth Fighting, and my husband who sees how long the notes take cannot relate to his former curmudgeonly stance.
posted by mozhet at 4:14 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

If the goal here is to teach the kid how to be a polite member of society and there is nothing wrong with him, yes, he should be addressing the envelopes.
posted by gjc at 5:51 AM on January 25, 2012

Um, no. Forcing an intelligent junior high school aged kid to do anything will only build resentment, so I guess whoever is forcing them to write the note but not the envelope is probably splitting the difference and minimizing the resentment while trying to balance the social obligation. A forced thank-you at that age isn't worth much anyway; by the time they're in junior high, if they're not interested in thanking someone for a gift, it's safe to take a break from giving gifts for a while to spare them the indignity of sending a thank-you.
posted by juniperesque at 6:03 AM on January 25, 2012

Amazing. At my summer camp we required that every kid write a letter home every week. This until at least the late 90s and I'd be very surprised if it didn't continue to be true. Age of the campers started at 7 and kids wrote their own envelopes, getting help from a counselor if they couldn't write the address - but very few kids needed this help. Parents usually wrote out the address for them and popped it into a Ziploc with stationery, so kids had the reference right there to copy. Part of my job when I was on the staff was sorting through the mail to make sure all the addressess were legible. Very few didn't make the cut.

So yes, geez, if an 8-year-old can do it a junior high student with no complicating (LD) factors should be doing it.
posted by Miko at 6:16 AM on January 25, 2012

Everything Kinetic said--seconded.

I'd also mention that in my house, notecards are easy to come by, but envelopes for said cards are remarkably scarce--even when my kid is determined to do her own envelopes, the odds that I'll be able to find any envelopes are slim. Since it's not 1953 anymore, it's not reasonable to assume that people have a stationery drawer just brimming with matching card-and-envelope sets.

I'm thirty, and very, very rarely address letters. I'm trying to think of the last time I did, and I've got nothing. I've only once had a landlord who wanted me to mail him checks--the rest of the time, they used PayPal, had a local drop-off, or had me leave the check in the mailbox and they picked it up.

Letter writing and addressing is a lovely but esoteric (and dying!) art--and it is, at this point, an art with limited practical purpose. Let it go.
posted by MeghanC at 6:53 AM on January 25, 2012

My kids can address a letter but I still do it for them.

I do it to make the job of the postal service just a little bit easier. Rather than force the mail person to decipher a childish scrawl, I print things neatly with my grown up handwriting.

It doesn't have anything to do with the recipient and has everything to do with being extra sure that said recipient will actually receive the note.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:58 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

At what age (if any) should a child/young adult be expected to address the envelope of a thank you note sent through the mail?

There should never be any such expectation. The letter inside is for you to read, the envelope is for the postal worker. It should never matter who addresses any envelope, ever.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:07 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Anyone old enough to be responsible for addressing the envelope himself is old enough to pick up the damn phone like a civilized human being and call someone and have an actual conversation with them to thank them for their subscription to "Litterbox Weekly" or the pair of mismatched beadazzled ankle socks. Anyone not old enough to take that step is hereby granted permission to have a trustworthy adult do their dialing and/or envelope addressing.

People really need to rethink the thank you note business. 20 years ago (when I was little) it still made sense. Today it is, at best, quaint. More likely, it is merely vestigial.
posted by jph at 7:09 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

When their handwriting is legible enough. Have mercy on the USPS.
posted by kirst27 at 7:26 AM on January 25, 2012

I feel like this is something even Miss Manners would not care about. The kid is writing thank you notes, and writing them promptly. That's really what matters.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:36 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd much rather have a card than a phone call. Cards are lovely to look at, they last, and they create a permanent memento of a single time - when [Kid]'s handwriting was juvenile, when they loved horses, when I lived at X address. I wouldn't rush to say they're dying or don't mean anything. A real paper card means a lot more to me than the desultory dialing of a phone for a call which will be shortly forgotten.
posted by Miko at 7:38 AM on January 25, 2012

Have mercy on the USPS.

Addresses have been digitally read now for over 10 years, and sorted accordingly, even bundled by street or zone in advance. The only thing your carrier may be looking at is your house number and maybe last name.
posted by Miko at 7:40 AM on January 25, 2012

At what age (if any) should a child/young adult be expected to address the envelope of a thank you note sent through the mail?

Should an intelligent junior high school student that is being forced to handwrite a thank you note be similarly forced to address the note's envelope? Does it even matter if the envelope is addressed by the child's parent?

These are two separate questions. The first one seems to lead to an answer in the 6-8 year age range. I am a huge fan of getting and sending postal mail. I am also a huge fan of choosing battles with children and forcing them to do as little as possible. The tone of your question leads me to believe this is a difference of opinion that you are having with someone. And so I'd answer the second question differently from the first, that if the 11 year old is sending a decent and decently prompt thank you card, the address on the envelope is no concern of yours even though sure they could have written it themselves. I have a young man in my life, slightly older than the one you refer to, who emails thank yous to me. There is no letter to be addressed. This is fine. If you are engaged in a battle of wills over this subject with another adult who is assuring you there is no way to get this child to address a letter, they are likely incorrect but choosing their battles. If you are engaged in a battle of wills with an eleven year old, I would absolutely let this go.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also consider that many times when a child needs to write a thank you note, it's usually not just ONE note that's needed, but five or ten or twenty at the same time, for all the gifts received for Xmas/birthday/graduation, etc. Imagine going through kinetic's ordeal twenty times in a month! When adults do batch mailings like that, they often just print address labels from the computer.
posted by apparently at 7:49 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does it even matter if the envelope is addressed by the child's parent?

No, why should it? I used to be offended if I got an emailed thank you instead of a written note, and now I am surprised and grateful to get any kind of acknowledgement at all. Things change.
posted by uans at 8:44 AM on January 25, 2012

If I had kids, I would create a file for mailing labels with every address the kids are known to write to. I hate to address envelopes myself and can't imagine forcing anyone else to do so. On the other hand, I love writing letters and would somehow like to pass this love onto kids. I have this belief that any kind of writing exercise that's unpleasant and boring-- and maybe painful to young fingers, because I remember that-- is just going to turn people off to written communication.

I always think it's interesting how etiquette questions have two sides: what should a person do, and how should the other person respond? The answer to the second question (in my opinion) is almost always "not at all, unless there is something to be fixed by responding." That doesn't at all mean that what the first person is doing is all right by definition or anything, or that you can't have a reaction.
posted by BibiRose at 9:54 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

write a goddamn thank you note to somebody instead of a cursory email

Why is this so bad? My nieces and nephews do it all the time, frequently including pictures. I'm always tickled to get a note from them.
posted by bonehead at 11:29 AM on January 25, 2012

My kids send a thank you note for anything and everything that comes to them from outside our immediate family. I consider this to be both a skill and a lesson in manners - one that they will either continue, or not, when they're on their own out in the world. That said, my kids don't complain about it because we've talked about how no one is obligated to give anyone a gift and, when someone does, expressing your gratitude is a lovely thing.

We use the basic template of, "Dear __, thank you for the ___. [brief description of how it will be used, enjoyed or other such info] From, VioletU'sKidsName." My oldest two use regular thank you cards; my youngest uses blank cards on which he draws pictures and things, too.

I do all of the envelope addressing for the sake of clarity (for the post office, I mean). I consider this to be the least important part of the entire thing and am sort of stunned to consider that someone might receive one of the cards and be displeased or perplexed to see my handwriting on the outside.
posted by VioletU at 1:29 PM on January 25, 2012

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