During my check-ups with adolescents, I like to talk about their outside activities, that is things that teens do once they get out of school. Many of my patients are involved in sports, and others like dance, theater or they may be in the orchestra or band. There are others who really don’t like the “usual” after school activities, but prefer to do volunteer work.
Being a volunteer is such an important aspect of adolescence. Learning about “giving back” and helping others is important for all of us, but I think especially important during the teen years. Teenagers are often self-centered, and narcissistic. It is normal part of their development. Think about toddlers and teens, the “me” years.
But, teens also have so much to give back. Their generation is full of talents. I see this among my teenage patients. Many of them have already chosen to volunteer and participate in little league coaching for baseball, lacrosse, and football. Others enjoy their church and synagogue and help with the young children in Sunday school or Hebrew school. I have teens who are talented in art and volunteer in nursing homes. The list is endless, but the results are the same...... giving back.
Many schools encourage or even require that a student volunteers. I think parents should also be instrumental in encouraging their own teens to volunteer in their community. This is often done by “modeling the behavior” yourself (one of my favorite parenting lines). If you get up on a Saturday morning to go help build homes at Habitat for Humanity, it is easy to wake up your teen to join you. What about opportunities in the community to deliver Meals on Wheels one weekend day a month, perfect time for chatting with your teen while in the car, and serving others at the same time. There are so many options that everyone should be able to find something that interests them while giving of themselves as well.
The lessons from volunteering will continue through out a teenagers life and hopefully into their adult life as well. As is often the case, when one volunteers, I am not sure who benefits more, but your teen will for sure.