Encourage Teens to Get Involved in Community Service
Getting your teen to think beyond his own immediate needs can be more difficult than cracking a nut with a plastic fork. But don't fret. It's not impossible. There are many ways to encourage your teen to care about those outside his immediate circle of friends. As he begins to feel empathy for others, he will realize he feels even better about himself.
"Teens are thinking about careers, college, and what their future might look like," explains Michelle Maidenberg, a psychotherapist and president/clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a center for group therapy in New York. "This is very challenging and just one of the reasons why they are so focused on their own world."
Once teens are involved in community service, however, they begin to look beyond their personal needs. They also learn firsthand about the challenges others face, and they experience a sense of empowerment as they realize they can make a real difference in the lives of others.
Not sure how to tempt a teen off the cell phone and into a community project? Teens buy into community service when the project or program revolves around their interests. "Finding something in an area of interest for them keeps them motivated and inspired," Maidenberg says.
For instance, if a teen has plans to become a veterinarian, she might volunteer at an animal hospital. If he is interested in culinary school, he could volunteer in a soup kitchen or bake for a project that supports families in need. Volunteer projects in your teen's area of interest will build her knowledge base as well as help others.
Parents can do their part by practicing what they preach and participating in community service themselves. Teens can learn directly from their parents that personal gratification is not all that matters.
You might want to find a project that the whole family can do together. Maidenberg suggests that you show a movie about the cause. "It is very important to induce empathy in them," she explains.
Let teens know the benefits they will reap. "Give them every reason in the world to volunteer," Maidenberg advises. She says that working on community service projects builds confidence. "By working with others, teens improve managerial, interpersonal and communication skills. Community service helps to instill a maturity when they take a step back to see the needs of other people," she adds. Another perk: service hours look great on a resume!
Places to Start
It's thrilling to watch your teen develop into a caring and productive member of society.
If you're not sure where to begin, consider that most communities offer volunteer opportunities for teens at:
* Animal shelters
* Senior residences
* Homeless shelters
* Coats for Kids Foundation – New coats for disadvantaged or at-risk kids.
* Habitat for Humanity – Buildingaffordable homes for the less fortunate.
* Locks of Love – Hair donations to make hairpieces for children with cancer.
* Operation Gratitude – Sends care packages to men and women serving in the military.