It's not just the joy of giving back: Volunteer work can set kids up for success in the future.
Regardless of how academically gifted or athletically capable your teenager may be, there’s nothing more beneficial to their future than the development of life experience that extends beyond the school grounds.
From casual jobs to community engagement and volunteer work it’s more important than ever for young adults to build their social awareness skills in order to contribute to the community around them. The positive energy this creates guides teens toward leading a more purposeful life – but most importantly, it fosters stronger connections between your kids, their peers and the environment around them.
But where to get started? Kids Giving Back is Australia’s leading not for profit organisation for youth volunteering, and offers school-aged students a diverse range of community experiences. Co-founder Ruth Tofler-Riesel runs through the numerous benefits of volunteering, the easy way parents can get involved, and what it’s like to create ‘next generation of generosity’.
Are there benefits for teens engaging in volunteer work beyond the simple ‘it’ll make you feel good’ approach?
“For kids of all ages – from the very young to tweens and teens – the benefits of volunteering are significant. Through volunteering, young people learn to think about ‘we’ and not just ‘me’. They interact with other communities beyond those in their immediate bubble and in doing so they move beyond their comfort zone. Volunteering also brings about an understanding of the young person’s ability to make a difference, both to others as well as themselves.”
Can volunteering help teens and tweens with finding a job down the line?
"Absolutely. A review by The National Youth Affairs Research Scheme in 2015 found among other things that the benefits of volunteering for young people were both personal and social and include strengthening social relationships, developing skills, enhancing career prospects. In addition to building resilience, empathy and confidence, volunteering also engages teens and tweens in teamwork, as they become part of something bigger than themselves. All of these experiences come together to build the young person’s inner strengths and capabilities. Skills, confidence, and a greater understanding of the world help them with finding a job – be it their first part-time job while still at school or a job later in life. There’s now an increasing body of supporting research shows that kids who perform acts of kindness experience increased wellbeing, popularity and acceptance among peers, leading to better classroom behaviour and higher academic achievement.”
What kind of volunteering work is best for teens to get into? For example, assisting the elderly, working with animals, getting passionate about politics or helping the homeless.
“Whatever a young person is passionate about – that’s always a great starting point for involvement. For us at Kids Giving Back, we offer volunteer opportunities that support a range of communities from homeless, asylum seekers and refugees, te elderly, victims of domestic violence, and environmental. We pretty much have something for every young person out there! We also encourage young people to get involved with a community or cause that they may not intuitively have strong feelings about, or with which they may not be as familiar. This encourages curiosity and an open mind and moves them out of their comfort zone and toward personal growth.”
Does all of this help teens develop friendships and enhance their social skills for school?
“Volunteering definitely helps kids to make friends and enhance social skills. It also enables young people to discover skills they never knew they had as volunteering frequently places them in new situations with different demands. In addition to learning new skills, they develop critical thinking skills as they evaluate new situations and come to understand another community and another way of thinking and moving through the world. We’ve frequently heard back from parents and schools about tweens and teens who had been bullied at school, and once they started volunteering with us and were mentioned at a school assembly or newsletter – life at school turned around for them.”
Can volunteering positively impact the mental health of young adults?
“The world in which our young people are growing up in is radically changing. With the impact of screen time, issues of social media, poor body image, low self-esteem, increasing mental health issues, substance abuse, and so much more… Volunteering, connecting with other communities, knowing the young person can make a difference, developing empathy and resilience, are all strong antidotes to mental health issues so frequently experienced by tweens, teens and younger. Volunteering gives young people a sense of agency, and a belief in their ability to be effective change-makers, and to improve someone else’s life or conditions.”
What sort of child would suit volunteering? Does it take a particular type of personality?
“Some tweens and teens are drawn toward volunteering/community service and it’s always been their thing. But then there are others who are introduced to it through their school, or a friend or family member and once they’ve participated in volunteering they quickly understand that this is not an activity that’s just for a particular type of person. Every kid, tween, teen and even adult has the capacity to feel good when they make a difference to someone else, and who wouldn’t like to experience that great feeling?”
Are there specific requirements for volunteering?
“An open mind, open heart, generosity of spirit, a willingness to listen, a willingness to be a team player and work collaboratively with others. Our volunteering opportunities and programs have a minimum age, which we base on the community they are volunteering for as well as how challenging the task at hand might be.”
How old does a child need to be to start volunteering?
“Some of our opportunities such as helping to prepare lunches for clients at the Asylum Seekers Centre or the House of Welcome can involve families with kids as young as five years old.”
Are there any things to watch out for when it comes to volunteering?
“First and foremost, the volunteering opportunities must be authentic. And that’s what’s really important. We respond to the real needs expressed by the communities we work with, we ask them “what do you need”. We don't create a volunteering activity for the sake of something to do. When kids make and deliver meals to homeless communities and individuals in need, we allocate these deliveries based on the need of those to whom we’re delivering. When kids sort donations at a shelter for victims of domestic violence, they do so as their help is really needed, and the shelter has requested that we do a call out for assistance. Visiting aged care facilities is a response to the loneliness expressed by so many elderly. And the list goes on. When the need is authentic our volunteers flourish, and the communities they are assisting truly benefit.”
How can parents get their kids excited about getting involved?
“Parents are very powerful role models. When a parent takes their toddler or young school-age child along with them to visit an elderly person or to deliver meals to someone in need of a warm, nutritious meal, the child is influenced by their parent’s actions. No parent should ever underestimate how much our kids learn and are influenced by our actions. Our kids are watching us all the time, even when we don’t know it! Volunteering is contagious! If you’ve ever been around someone who is passionate about something – sport, cooking, music etc. – it’s contagious. There’s no quicker way to make someone curious about an activity than another person’s passionate expression of what that activity does for them, how they feel when they do it. If parents are enthusiastic, their child will be too. Similarly, if a child,tween or teen encounters a mentor at school who is passionate about service, the teacher plays an important role in that young person’s life.”
To explore volunteering opportunities in Sydney, head to Kids Giving Back, otherwise, visit Volunteering Australia or Youth City to discover youth volunteering opportunities in cities and States across Australia.