In this day and age of Social Media and online living kids are being drawn more and more into virtual worlds and often words that are based on a fair bit of narcissism. Kids are caring more and more about outward appearance not just of themselves but oft heir lives as a whole. Often you will find tweens and teens engrossed in their phones or tablets looking at the lives of others and seeing how theirs compares. So many young people are falling into the trap of believing they are not enough as is and as a result are spending far too much time and energy trying to make themselves look better, their lives look more exciting all for some likes from strangers. With increasing energy going into themselves and an inward look at their own lives our children and teens are being drawn into a more narcissistic culture that is making for higher numbers of depression as they are constantly being made to feel inadequate. There are many ways to try and combat this growing trend in superficial and self-absorbed behavior and one of my favourite ways is to get kids looking outwards not inwards is volunteering. Volunteering can bring such much needed perspective into the lives of our teenagers and even younger kids giving them a greater sense of purpose in helping others and it is something that will be more inwardly satisfying than the amount of ‘likes’ on a picture.
What Does Volunteering Look Like?
Now Volunteering sums up a lot of images, from the extremely glamorous building houses in Africa to the totally unglamorous sweeping the floor of a home for the elderly. Volunteering can often seem like it takes to much work to organize, finding the right organization, often having to pay for your privilege. This is not the kind of volunteering we are talking about here. Especially not for young kids and teens. Lets think of Volunteering more as giving acts of service within your local community and even family and now all of a sudden it doesn’t sound so daunting or hard, but a little more interesting and fun. These acts of service that you can enroll your kids in can have such a positive impact, to your children’s and to the community and to the person or people they are helpings lives.
Where To Begin?
There are a few different ways to go about making volunteering a part of your kids lives. It can be an incidental thing, something that happens when the moment arises or a more thought out process. If you are a bit stumped yourself as to where to start on this journey of service giving then it may be good to firstly sit down yourself and make a list, starting close to home then branching out, of any family members, Aunties, Uncles, Grandmothers or Grandfathers that may need some extra help in some areas. Even Cousins or Siblings can be included. For example a Grandparent may need help with some gardening or a cousin may need some help with a school project in a subject your child excels in. When you’ve done with family you can start thinking about the wider community. Organizations you may be a part of, other people you know that may be in a less fortunate position that your own kids or be going through some personal issues and may need a bit of extra help around the home, in the yard or in another aspect of life. Once you’ve gone through that take a look on the internet and see if there are any community organizations that do run volunteering programs, soup kitchens, making care packs for the homeless, tutoring or mentoring programs (This for the older kids) for disadvantaged kids. You will be surprised at what is out there and how many different ways there are of providing acts of service.
So How Do I Get My Kids Involved?
Now that you’ve done a bit of your own research it’s time to get your kids on board with it. If you feel like you need to start with a more subtle approach you can try casually mentioning there is a family member who needs a bit of extra help and you were going to go around and help out and would love it if they could join you. This method can work with particularly resistant teens. After going and doing these stealth acts of service a few times you may find your kids enjoying themselves and the feeling it gives them to get out of their own head and be helping others and they may naturally start looking for opportunities to help out themselves. This is of course the best case scenario and if it happens to your kids then great!! Well done. But it is not always going to be the case so may I suggest a more forward approach. Try sitting down with your kids and talking to them and saying how as a family you would love to start looking for more ways to help others. Make sure you are not pinning it all on them or they will start to get suspicious and instantly resistant. Try not to make them feel bad for not always doing service for others, instead think of the service activities they may have done in the past and remind them of how good it made them feel and how proud you were of them being able to give of themselves. Then put it back on them, ask your kids for suggestions of how they can give acts of service and whom they can give acts of service to. Make a list with them and share your own list with them also if they are having trouble. Talk to your kids about the importance of helping others and being grateful that they are in a position where they are able to help others.
Now if any of these options just flat out don’t or wont work for your children but you are still very keen on having them involved in some volunteering or service projects then may I suggest finding a volunteering program already set up in your community in which you can enroll your kids into. Youth groups and church groups quite often have programs going on which provide great help to the local community and even to countries abroad. You may find your kids resentful at first and not interested but with a bit of time and once they start to see the positive impact they are able to make I’m sure they will start to look at it in a different light and happily continue on with great volunteering work.
Volunteering And Service Ideas
If you are feeling a bit stumped for ideas on just how your kids can help contribute to the lives of others, I’ve outlined a few simple suggestions.
– Helping out the elderly
This can be with housework and gardening or just by simply spending time reading books, listening to their stories and being a companion. The elderly have a lifetime of experiences and stories that they often so happy to share. Your kids are sure to learn some amazing things and their elderly companions will have to joy of being able to share.
– Mentoring and Tutoring
If you have teenagers this can be a great one. There may be special needs kids at their school or kids that come from disadvantaged areas of town that need a little extra help with school work or just a friend to hang at the park, go for walks or even to play video games with! This can be a great way for them to be a positive influence and to realize how lucky they themselves have it.
– Activity Boxes
This is great for younger kids. Have them fill a small box with some fun games and activities they may have grown out of or even shop with them at charity stores for some things they can donate to children’s hospitals or children from disadvantaged homes. It’s a beautiful way for them to share and see the smiles it can light up on another kids face.
– Town Cleanups
Town cleanups are great ways of giving back to the community, affiliate your kids with an existing group or help them to start their own around beaches or parks or bush areas and help them hold clean up days to reduce litter. This helps them to respect the community they are a part of and a great way to help them with their Eco Journey.
– Walks and Fun Runs
Many schools and local groups put of a few ‘fun runs’ or walks for charities. Such as walks to raise awareness and donations for cancer. This can be a way of teaching them compassion and about the real things that effect peoples lives everyday. A lovely and fun way to show they care and to raise some money for good causes.
– Animal Care
If your child has an affinity or love for animals then maybe helping out at an animal shelter could be the right fit for them. Spending time with animals has been proved to be very therapeutic and being able to help them to have better lives is a very satisfying and worthwhile thing to do.
– Sharing Stories
Another great one for kids is sharing stories and visiting children in hospital. Helping to brighten their day and put a smile on the faces of sick children can be fulfilling for people of all ages. Bring some games along too and get involved!
Volunteering And Social Media
One of the most useful tips I have found in getting your children involved in volunteer work is to get them to leave their phones/devices behind. These can be very addictive and teens can particularly find it difficult to focus on other people and service when they have a link to the ‘glamorous’ world in their pocket. You may find them sneaking off on toilet breaks that last a little to long just to check in or stay connected.
Another peril of having a phone with them is the use of social media while they are working. In some cases social media can be a great tool for promoting a project they are working on that may need donations or more volunteers. The it would be appropriate for them to share what they are doing on social media. But there is a downside also, and that is by ‘sharing’ their ‘stories’ or photos of their volunteer work they are also feeding back into that self absorbed world and possibly using their volunteer work as a way of showing off how thoughtful they are, which in the end leads back to a very narcissistic way of thinking.
When involving your kids in volunteer and service projects It’s important to talk to discuss with them the ‘why’ of what they are doing. Explaining that acts of service should not be something to boast about or used for social status in anyway, acts of service are just that, acts of service and are done to help others. When they are volunteering it is for the benefit of others and their own personal growth.
They Can Do It!
Most importantly with doing acts of service with children and teens, make it an experience they can enjoy. It doesn’t mean it has to be ‘fun’ or ‘easy’ but more that it is something they can come out of at the end of seeing a positive result and how they were able to make a difference in the lives of others. Once they see this they will be far more inclined to want to do more and look for more opportunities in their day to day lives to provide acts of service to others and in looking outside themselves and into the needs of others you will find your kids growing more patience and compassion and having more gratitude for the life the do lead. Have faith in your kids and let them know that they have so much good to give and offer the world and you’ll see how this can lift them from self obsessed kids to respectful and compassionate young people.