I ran this post last year and received a couple of requests for pen pals, as well as ideas for finding pen pals (see past comments below.) Thought it would be fun to re-run this post to see if anyone has connected or wants to add their email addresses to the pen pal request list.

When I was really young (like first or second grade), I remember my mom barging into my room with an envelope in her hand demanding to know why a grown man from Maryland was writing me a personal letter.

I was clueless and my mom was horrified. I don’t even think I knew where Maryland was at the time – let alone know someone from this mysterious place! After she opened the letter it all made sense.

Turns out he was responding to a short message I wrote weeks earlier – addressed to no one in particular – saying I was seeking a pen pal. I had stuffed the letter in a glass bottle, screwed on a top, and threw it in the Little Egg Harbor Baybehind my grandparents’ beach house in New Jersey.

Amazingly enough, that bottle made its way from that little New Jersey bay – out into the choppy Atlantic Ocean – and down into the Chesapeake Bay, just outside of Baltimore (a couple hundred nautical miles!). And this strange man just happened to seeing it floating next to his sailboat. In his letter back to me, he said my note was still intact  – at least enough to read – and he wanted to write back to prove he received it. (Thankfully, he was not some creepy old man looking to strike a pen pal relationship with me!)

While my efforts to find a pen pal were not the safest or the smartest, you have to admit it was pretty clever and coincidental. Fast forward about 30 years later…my daughter is now at that same age I was, and she is also seeking a pen pal friend. Yet despite the years, a pen pal relationship can still be a tricky lesson in safety. Unless you know your child’s pen pal personally, you don’t want to give out your mailing address. But the fun of a pen pal is writing to someone you have not met.

This past summer my daughter met a girl her age who lives next to my parents in Florida. The two of them exchanged addresses and they’ve written each other a few times. While I am thrilled to see my child writing letters, the notes are brief and focus on topics they both already know about each other. I have a feeling the excitement of their letter exchanges will wear off sooner than later.

So are pen pals – like handwritten letters – a thing of the past?

Of course my child can strike up a pen pal relationship with a relative or another friend. But where and how do you find a “true” pen pal…someone my child has not met who can teach her about life in a different place? And how do you trust your child is corresponding with someone safe? Do you offer your home address or an address somewhere else? Do you resort to email to keep a sense of anonymity?

Let me know if your child has had success with a pen pal. What resources did you use to find your pen pal – both here in the US and internationally? Are there organizations out there seeking pen pals or connecting pen pals? What’s the best way to get it started? What kind of pen pal safety tips can you share? If you think having a pen pal is a bad idea, share your reasons why!