Kids and teens are so busy. As a parent, I know how valuable scheduled activities like sports and clubs have been to my children’s development. I’ve always tried to make sure they get enough unstructured time, too. But when other parents tell me, “My kids don’t have time to volunteer,” I tell them that volunteering is as important to kids’ well-being and maturity as their other activities. Here’s why.
- Teaches empathy. Giving time and attention to people they don’t know – and may never even see – gets kids thinking outside their immediate world and about the challenges others face. Learning empathy helps children and youth connect with others and nurtures emotional intelligence, a key trait among successful leaders.
- Develops other life-skills, like patience, planning, prioritizing and time management. Mastering these skills increases self-esteem.
- Matters for college admissions. Students who volunteer demonstrate not only that they may have high emotional intelligence and mastered some basic life skills, but also that that they care about their community and have made time to explore and think about what they like and what they are good at.
- Helps them feel better. College students report a sense of greater well-being on days when they engaged in certain types of civic activities, like helping friends or strangers and caring for their environment by recycling and conserving resources. These kind and helpful behaviors also seemed to be meeting young adults’ basic needs for autonomy, connectedness, and competence—to feel free, close to others, and capable.
- Exposes young people to possible careers and helps them build a network outside of their family and school.
Check out these resources for more information about volunteering and all the ways it contributes to youth success:
- Your local United Way offers a range of volunteer opportunities for all ages, and may offer programs especially for teens and families.
- DoSomething.org engages 13- to 25-year-olds online in national campaigns.
- generationOn, part of Points of Light, provides programs and resources to engage kids and teens in service.
- TeenLife is a resource for parents, educators, and teenagers nationwide who are seeking programs and services for college-bound students in grades 7-12.
- Volunteer Match offers a large searchable database of volunteer opportunities.
- Youth Service America sponsors the Global National Youth Service Day and offers a wealth of resources for youth, educators and families.