Getting Teens to Play Vital Roles in Their Communities

Here’s a secret too few parents know: Teens are best positioned to succeed if they’re actively involved in their communities. Whether they volunteer for a charity, participate in a neighborhood organization, or offer community service – engagement boosts overall well-being and builds essential character skills.

What is Civic Engagement?

Civic engagement means making positive contributions to one’s community or the greater good. Some ways teens can do this include volunteering, tutoring, or simply helping the family next door. Additional ways to practice civic engagement? Voting, campaigning, advocating for a cause, and much more.

Essential for Development

Being engaged in the community, being able to make a positive difference in the lives of others, is critical for the immediate and long-term health and development of teenagers. Individuals who volunteer their time tend to report greater overall well-being than those who don’t. They are more likely to be self-confident and believe they can make a difference in the world. They’re also less likely to participate in risky behavior such as drinking and doing drugs.

Civic engagement has other lasting benefits, too. Individuals often build skills that are helpful in the workplace. For example, some people are able to expand their professional networks. Others may learn to listen well or offer points of view without being argumentative or pushy. 

Starting Young

As early as two or three years old, and by some estimates, even younger, girls and boys develop what’s known as “civic courage.” Children may advocate verbally, or act out physically if they think a person in authority is acting or speaking unfairly. This is true even if the perceived injustice has nothing to do with them. The possibility a playmate might be the target of wrongdoing is enough to spark positive and protective action

Parents have the ability to nurture these early tendencies — simply by ensuring tweens have opportunities to be civically involved. Indeed, tweens who participate in their communities are more likely to grow into teenagers who won’t consider such activity a burden – just part of what it means to be a citizen. 

Individuals who volunteer their time tend to report greater overall well-being than those who don’t. They are more likely to be self-confident and believe they can make a difference in the world.

Boost Involvement

There are several ways parents can increase teen interest in being engaged. Below are three of the most crucial:

  1. Be a Role Model: Parents can demonstrate their commitment to civic engagement in both obvious and unobvious ways. The most transparent opportunity is making sure teens see them get involved physically — lending time to a local organization, volunteering for the PTA,  or going to the polls to vote. There are plenty of ways to get involved — even from the comfort of your own home. We know parents matter to teens, and teens pay attention to what parents do and say. Teens also notice how parents behave — not just at home, but within the greater community.
  2. Talk Over Dinner:  A less straightforward strategy is for parents to pay attention to how they talk about civic engagement with their sons and assure they have the same type of discussions with their daughters. Historically, girls have been encouraged to tackle social problems through community service, while boys have been urged to pursue change through politics. We do a disservice to our children when we don’t present each of them with the range of ways they can contribute to positive change. Parents can boost teen engagement by asking their adolescent’s opinions over dinner and taking their points of view seriously. When they recognize a problem, help them imagine a solution.
  3. Make it Easy: Parents can make being involved more accessible. Instead of urging your teen to take a bus across town to volunteer alone, perhaps choose another location closer to home where you can give back to the community together.

Seek Opportunities

Towns and cities across the country have locally elected officials who welcome teen participation. Perhaps your teen can assist with an upcoming town hall meeting. Maybe your adolescent can offer a presentation about a successful club in school.

Another idea is to encourage teens to attend school board meetings. These are opportunities to address pressing issues to members of the board and make sure youth voices are heard.  Solutions are often best crafted by those closest to the problem.  In the case of educational settings, young people may possess the very best strategies for successful change.

You can find more avenues for boosting civic engagement by clicking any of the below links. Also, you may want to check out Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell’s book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation.

Create the Good

United Way


About Allison Gilbert

Allison Gilbert is Senior Writer for the CPTC. Her pieces cover an array of topics including self-care, bullying, grief, and resilience. Allison is author of numerous books and speaks across the country to corporations, non-profits, and community groups. You can learn more by visiting

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