The benefits to volunteering are innumerable. For your teenager they are essential. Many of us automatically think of how great it looks on college applications to have a teenager who volunteers. However, there are reasons it’s good for your child that span from work-ethic to physical health. Research does nothing but support the idea of your teen spending some selfless time to benefit others.
This past week my family did something out of our comfort zone. We hosted a pastor who was attending a conference at our local church. If I’m being totally honest it was inconvenient. We had to let the kids camp out on our floor, actually keep the house picked up, make a little bit of extra food, and stay up later than usual (One of my kids wakes me at 5:30 every morning so the only hope of enough sleep is an early bedtime).
Despite this, it was a great experience! It was really, really good for every single member of my family to be inconvenienced for someone else’s benefit. It helped us get exposed to another perspective too. This pastor has a significantly less materialistic lifestyle than we do. He cares more about the needs of those around him than his own safety or comfort. I would have told you I was like that too, but that would have been wishful thinking. It is really good for us to contrast how we live with the way other people live. It is even better for us to give up something for someone else.
When it comes to your teenagers it does them a lot of good to get past their own comforts and concerns. Teens I’ve worked with who have been exposed to significant poverty or need tend to have a lot more gratitude. Those who have simply been sheltered in the OC Bubble are often self-centered. They don’t mean to be, but they are worried about brand-names and image.
Teens who volunteer work harder. They tend to care about something with some amount of passion. They don’t feel their own personal future is the only thing that matters. They also feel more empowered. Teenagers who volunteer are less likely to see themselves as victims. They know changes can be made so they don’t sit back helplessly when they see something they don’t like.
The point of all this is to say that your teenager will benefit greatly from selflessness. One of the most productive ways to be selfless is to volunteer at something that really matters. Help your teenager choose a cause that isn’t simply whatever fills the amount of volunteer time suggested by a college counselor, but something that actually matters to him or her.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT