Boost Teen Interest in Volunteering

Boost Interest in Volunteering

As of 2015, more than 63 million Americans are volunteering their time, giving eight billion hours of their compassion and expertise to helping others. One group responsible for this impressive number is teenagers. This is fantastic news not only because giving back is good for the individuals who receive support; it also benefits those who provide it. But what if your teen doesn’t want to volunteer? Are there ways to spark his or her interest?

Cora Collette Breuner, chair of the American Academy of PediatricsCommittee on Adolescence, says there are absolutely strategies for driving enthusiasm. “While I applaud families who encourage volunteering at young ages, the ship has not sailed when children become teenagers,” Breuner concludes. “The key is making the activity the child’s choice.”

The Upside of Volunteering

Encouraging teens to volunteer is worth the effort. The upsides are numerous and far-reaching: volunteering reduces stress, builds resilience, and boosts well-being. It lowers rates of depression. Being positively engaged strengthens our sense of meaning and purpose. By helping others we come to recognize both we, and our efforts, matter.

When we give support, we’re also better prepared to receive support. This is because we recognize how good it feels to help others so we’re more comfortable accepting help when our time comes. This pattern ultimately drives our capacity for handling life’s ups and downs. It makes us more resilient.

Individuals who contribute to the greater good gain a sense of power. They recognize they have the ability to transform lives and make the world a better place. This is an extraordinary concept. Giving to others has the capacity to foster feelings of worthiness and value. And for these reasons, volunteering encourages individuals to stay on safe and healthy paths throughout their lives.

When we give support, we’re also better prepared to receive support. This is because we recognize how good it feels to help others so we’re more comfortable accepting help when our time comes.

Let Teens Pick

There are a few ways to help adolescents determine the right volunteering fit. The most important is to pursue opportunities that reflect your child’s interests. For example, if your son enjoys reading, you might suggest he reads to children with disabilities. If your daughter is passionate about sports, she might help coach a team with younger athletes.

No matter the activity, teens are more likely to volunteer if they’re able to see the benefits of their involvement first hand. “Organizing library books won’t be as reinforcing as reading with children and witnessing their joy and appreciation,” insists Laura Padilla-Walker, associate dean, College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at Brigham Young University and co-author of a study on adolescent volunteerism.

Make Volunteering Social

It’s essential to get people who are close to the teen involved. It’s great for families to participate together so children can observe their parents enjoying these activities, too. “It’s less effective if parents sit on the couch and then tell their children they should do some service. It will be much more enjoyable and rewarding if families participate together,” Padilla-Walker says.

Family is not the only way to encourage teens to volunteer. Friends are also critical. “They might not be excited about volunteering, but they are excited about hanging out with friends,” Padilla-Walker admits. Her point is to go with whatever strategy motivates your teen to participate. The goal is for your children to get over the hurdle of beginning. And once they start, they’ll hopefully begin to realize they actually enjoy being of service to others.

Partner with Other Parents

Because teens so often want to spend time with their friends, consider working with other parents to get a group of friends together to volunteer. Melinda Bier, Associate Director of the Center for Character and Citizenship at University of Missouri, St. Louis, suggests tapping into existing programs and projects. “Community service days can become a great tradition,” she says. Bier points to MLK Day and Earth Day as terrific examples.

Make it a Family Affair

Families who haven’t regularly volunteered together may hit more resistance with their teenagers than most. If your child still seems disinterested, Bier encourages the following tactic: Investigate potential opportunities together and make the pursuit a family activity or challenge. A great way to begin is simply by asking your child’s opinion on a community issue over dinner.

Where to Start

Need help finding the right opportunity? VolunteerMatch partners with 120,000 organizations, providing 7 million volunteers with concrete ways to give back. Currently, the site features 22,000 teen-friendly opportunities. Not all require children to show up in-person. 7,000 are virtual opportunities teens can do without ever leaving home.

We hope you and your teens have fun giving back. It’s never too late to take full advantage of the sweeping emotional and physical rewards for doing so.

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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