We send our young people strong messages. Two of them are “be whoever you want to be” and “do what is best for you.” I agree with both of these. However, they place a strong emphasis on the individual person and do not tell the whole story of what it takes to be a quality adult.
Developing and maintaining healthy and loving relationships will often be our greatest accomplishments. Likewise, being a loving member of a community is not only beneficial for the community members, but for the person themselves. We are social beings. Despite our ego-driven culture, we are healthiest when we are connected with others through positive relationships. One way to develop ties to our communities is to volunteer. There are many opportunities for children and teens, and here are some reasons for making it happen.
1. It can create a habit of engaging in activities that are not self serving. This is the opposite of the expectation or requirement “what am I going to get out of this?” Although we receive the benefits of feeling good about doing good, it is not about receiving any type of reward, external or otherwise. Giving selflessly promotes growth within us and others. Telling young people not to be selfish or to help others will never be as effective as modeling it or creating opportunities for them to do so. If we create the expectation that they add to their community in some way, then they will hold that expectation for themselves as they grow. Giving our young people the sense that they are responsible for the role they play within their community is a valuable lesson.
2. Anytime is the perfect time. We may be under the impression that we are not in a position to help others. There are some theories which state that we only begin to help others or think about our true purpose once all of our other needs have been met. This would mean that anyone who is struggling with money or otherwise is not in a place where they are able to engage in life on that level. I strongly disagree. There is a contrasting theory, developed by Viktor Frankl, which states that even while in the midst of suffering, we are able to find meaning and purpose. He wrote that volunteering can be a powerful experience, especially for those who are depressed and out of work; it doesn’t make any money, but it’s a meaningful use of time that makes people feel better.
3. We benefit from social and community ties. There are many benefits that can come from being involved and connected in our communities through volunteer work. We know that community connections serve as a protective factor against drug use. We also know that supporting others and receiving social support can have positive effects on mood and basic functioning. Volunteering has been shown to increase happiness, it broadens our experiences, and helps to develop the skill of working within a team. We find meaning in being part of something that is greater than ourselves, and we can help our kids accomplish this by sharing their time and energy with others.
Happy volunteer image available from Shutterstock.