Teenagers are not only a valuable source of energy, goodwill and creativity, but they’re also the key to our future. Volunteering allows them to tap into all those values while also learning about the world around them.

Volunteer work can teach both gratitude and understanding. If you can show your teen how enriching volunteering is from a young age, they’ll start to make a connection between helping someone else and their own joy. Even if volunteering is a part of your child’s high school graduation or scholarship requirements, volunteering can still be something they are passionate about.

There are lots of service projects available to teens locally, statewide, nationally and even internationally. 

How to Choose
Choosing the right service opportunity is very important and can help, or harm, your child’s interest in a cause. Carefully consider her interests and abilities, the time required and the attitude of the staff she may be working with, as well as how she will get to and from the volunteer location. All those factors can make a difference in whether she continues to participate.

A few options include collecting canned goods for a local food bank, working at a soup kitchen or caring for animals at a local animal shelter. Encourage your child to look for larger opportunities, such as raising awareness about AIDS or helping people harmed by natural disasters. Whatever you choose, look for activities that suit your teenager’s interest and time availability so she’s sure to stick with them.

Stress What’s Important
Volunteering your own time sets a good example for your children and it gives you a chance to bond with them. It also allows you to talk about deeper ethical issues. Teach your teenager that his time impacts people in need. Making the commitment to volunteer, whether it’s a few hours a week or just during a summer break, has a long-lasting impact on people’s lives and the community.

Know the Benefits
Teen volunteering has risen steadily since the 1980s. Research has shown that teens who volunteer are more responsible and have higher self-esteem. Volunteering also helps teenagers gain skills such as leadership, good communication, time management and decision making. Teens who volunteer perform better at school and also build a stronger resume for college and scholarship applications.

This article was written by Shobha Bhaskar, MD, a Washington University pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She is one of the Mom Docs who writes for the blog ChildrensMomDocs.org.

Looking for a great volunteer opportunity? Visit VolunteerMatch.org to find something right for your teen.


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