Some high schools now require a certain number of service hours for graduation, but many students don’t know how to get started with their service work or how best to find an activity that will be fulfilling for all parties involved. The benefits of giving back to the immediate community are many, but studies have also shown that teenagers who engage in altruistic behaviors, including small and large acts of kindness, experience a boost in self-esteem.
Here are a few ways to help your children get more engaged with the community:
Model civic responsibility. Do your best to show your children the small things we can all do to positively impact those around us. Bring your children along if you are taking a meal to new parents or someone who is ill, and along the way, talk about how good it feels to do things for others. Getting them involved at the local level politically can also be helpful, from rallies to peaceful protests, where they are likely to see other young people engaged in broader community activities and issues.
Help your children get started, and keep their personality traits in mind. If a child wants to get involved but is intimidated by where to start, you might offer to help him or her do the initial research. A simple Google search of “volunteer opportunities near me” or a visit to Create the Good will provide thousands of options, but you can then narrow things down to a specific area, type of volunteer work, any minimum age requirements, time commitments, etc. When assisting your children in the process, also talk through what they would be most comfortable doing, as some teens would rather do a beach clean-up with friends, while others may thrive mentoring elementary-aged children via a summer STEM camp.
Build on what your children are already doing. A child who is on the debate team at school might enjoy an opportunity to speak out about a youth issue. For children who lean toward team sports, junior coaching could be a great option; or if they have done fundraising for their school or team, raising money for a cause they believe in could be a good fit. Don’t overlook opportunities in your own backyard either—anything from helping a neighbor with homework to spending time gardening with grandparents inspires a community mindset.
If they are resistant to volunteering, have an honest conversation with them about personal purpose. If your children aren’t that interested in community activities, one option is to accept this and keep an eye out for future opportunities. Consider, however, that 20 percent of high school kids report being purposeful and dedicated to something besides themselves, which leaves the majority a bit adrift. At Green Ivy, much of our work with students is around goal setting and shifting daily habits, which, in turn, guides them toward their own vision of success and purpose. We emphasize getting involved in the local and school community as one way to do this, and many schools are doing the same. The good news? About 26 percent of teenagers between ages 16 and 19 volunteer, and even if it is strongly encouraged (or required) by schools or parents, this mindset often carries on beyond high school.