Volunteerism certainly has its benefits. But, how can parents help their teens have a positive volunteer experience? Consider these teen volunteer tips:
- Talk to your teen about her strengths and interests. Not every volunteer opportunity fits every teen. Before searching for volunteer organizations, talk to your teen about what she’d like to do and make a list of possible volunteer activities. Does she like animals? Perhaps the local shelter would be a good start. Does he/she enjoy talking to people? Consider a nearby hospital or retirement home. Try to find volunteer opportunities where your teen will thrive. But, don’t be afraid to support your teen in trying something new. Sometimes taking a risk can help your teen develop entirely new interests and talents.
- Search for local and at-home volunteer opportunities. Once you’ve made a list of your teen’s strengths and interests, search for opportunities that fit the list. Many communities have structured volunteer programs for adolescents. You can find branches of major nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross, in your phone book. A quick online search will yield directories of “wanted” ads for volunteer groups in every state. If your teen is self-motivated or has an unpredictable schedule, he may prefer to volunteer from home. He/She may choose to send troop care packages, mail letters to sick children, collect suitcases for foster kids, plant native trees, or perform any number of services.
- Encourage your teen to do a “trial run.” Help your teen make arrangements for completing a short volunteer trial run before committing to any specific opportunity. The trial period can be anywhere from an afternoon to a week. If at the end of the trial run your teen would prefer to choose another volunteer opportunity, help him/her find something that is a better fit.
- Help your teen stay committed. Once your teen commits to a volunteer project, encourage him to stay the course. There are almost always challenges, personality clashes, unexpected needs and alternative activities that look more fun. But, remind your teen that he/she has a responsibility to stick with his/her commitment. Don’t force your teen to continue with any program, but make sure you emphasize the importance of meeting obligations.
- Talk to your teen about his volunteer experiences. Once your teen completes his/her volunteer project, talk to her about her experiences and really listen. Discuss his/her triumphs and his/her struggles. Then, ask your teen where he/she wants to volunteer next.
With school obligations and multimedia distractions, it isn’t always easy for teenagers to volunteer their time. But, with a little guidance, helping others can have tremendous rewards. It can also be a lot of fun.