How Teen Volunteering Helps to Build Character

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It’s one thing to have chores when a certain task is assigned on a certain day, such as, washing dishes, or cleaning the restroom. We are often told by our parents to clean our bedrooms, take the trash out, do the laundry, or mow the lawn, are just a few examples. These tasks are another form of homework. Work that is essential in order to maintain a clean, safe, and presentable environment. Inevitably, these are chores that need to be done on a daily basis, and cannot be ignored. However, volunteering is someone who contributes time to helping others with no expectation of pay or any other material benefits. But, this does not mean that volunteer work doesn’t come with any gain, benefit, or knowledge for the volunteer. For adolescents, those who volunteer or engage in civic participation develop positive results in mental health and well-being than those that don’t participate in volunteer work. It is commonly believed that helping others is as beneficial for the donor as it is for the recipient. This belief is especially true for adolescents.

For example, according to a group of researchers, their review found promising evidence that volunteering may contribute to reducing risks for problem behaviors. These problem behaviors include teenage pregnancy, substance use, school failure, while improving academic functioning (Kumperminc, Holditch, Allen). Furthermore, they also found mixed evidence regarding increases in social competence, problem-solving abilities, sense of responsibility to succeed in school, career exploration, political participation, and social responsibility. To further support these findings, researcher Zeynep Cemalcilar points out additional beneficial developmental consequences of volunteerism for youngsters, such as personal growth, developmental of prosocial attitudes and empathy for others, and changes in self-perception as the volunteer role becomes part of their identity. Mostly for the disadvantage and at-risk students, civic engagement is also observed to improve academic achievement and future academic and occupational goals while decreasing the likelihood of dropping out from school.

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One interesting finding by Cemalcilar was that females were more likely to volunteer; volunteerism peaked during middle adulthood; and people with more education, higher income and/or higher prestigious jobs volunteered more than people from lower socio-economic groups. Teen volunteering has shown positive health benefits through psychological and social development. “Through volunteering, adolescents can gain valuable life experiences and feel valued and important” (Moreno, Furtner, and Rivara). Research has found positive health benefits to volunteering, such as, reducing depression and increasing positive emotions. This is important because volunteering is basically a distraction to any depression creating a more positive mood. Volunteering has also decreased the risk of high blood pressure. Furthermore, in a study conducted by Moreno, “adolescents were split into 2 groups. Half of the adolescents were in an intervention group (a group that has a particular experience) in which they provided volunteer help to younger children on a weekly basis. The other half of the adolescents were in the control group (a group that has only their normal experience) and did not volunteer. The research study found that adolescents who experienced volunteering were more likely to have lower cholesterol levels and lower body mass index compared with those who did not volunteer” (Moreno). This research observation determines beneficial effects of volunteering work.

Community service shapes identity and prepares teens to be active citizens. Stated by Raskoff and Sundeen, “There are many students that do service at sites that are managed by nonprofit organizations and social service agencies that respond to social problems, such as homelessness, and provide assistance to people in need of food and shelter” (Raskoff and Sundeen). This would help teens recognize to appreciate what they have and develop self-responsibilities. Some other examples on how volunteering shapes identity is described by Daniel Hart. He states that “young people are not only doing service but also doing it as representatives of a particular value tradition as they serve in the name of a specific tradition” (Hart). These organizations help teens build personal as well as social identities. Moreover, because service is done at these sites, students may become members of networks with others whom they did service collectively. Thus, individuals find themselves connected to organizations and networks that afford them lasting resources for civic involvement (Hart). The most striking findings by researcher (Hart) is how “participation in community service may influence one’s later civic and political participation. By performing service, a participant may become personally involved with political issues, rather than thinking about them abstractly. Involvement in community service also provides a network of people with whom to discuss civic issues. In performing community service, people may also become familiar with social problems of which they were previously unaware.” This gives proof that offering time to volunteer work sets teens to become active citizens later in their adult life. High school students involved in extracurricular activities provide students with opportunities to learn civic and leadership skills, such as giving speeches, coordinating efforts with others, influencing others, writing formal documents, and holding meetings. There is some evidence that involvement in extracurricular activities in high school increases the likelihood of future civic engagement. According to analysts Zaff, he found that “compared to individuals who only occasionally participated in extracurricular activities, individuals who regularly participated in at least one extracurricular activity in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade had higher levels of both voting in presidential elections and volunteering 2 years after high school and into early adulthood.” This exemplifies that extracurricular activities helps keep the wheels turning for participating teens which inspires them to get involved with their communities. There are many types of volunteer work available to teenagers that can help boost their self-esteem, help further their psychological and social development, and bring awareness to the type of services they can be a part of.

Through the research of Moreno, he provides the many types of volunteer work available to adolescents which include, “School-based volunteer programs for after-school clubs, helping younger children with their homework, or helping with a school sports team. Hospital volunteer programs in which adolescents may help with activities such as deliveries to patient rooms, reading to patients, or helping to prepare snacks. Animal volunteer programs with animal shelter, humane societies, or the local zoo. Environmental volunteer programs to restore, clean, or preserve the outdoors. Nursing home volunteer programs in which adolescents may help with reading, writing letters, or playing games. And finally, community organizations such as food banks, charity auctions, museums, libraries, or youth-based organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. These volunteer programs help mature growing teens while teaching them a sense of responsibilities. It is a self-empowering feeling that is earned when helping others in need. In his book “Acts of Compassion” Wuthnow mentions that “research studies show that most people do in fact hold the belief that helping others is a good way to gain fulfillment for yourself” (Wuthnow).

In conclusion, given the literature on teen volunteerism, it has been proven that volunteering has positive effects for both the society and the individual. These positive effects include psychological and mental health as it can help to reduce depression, thus, developing a strong sense of identity. Teen volunteering can prevent teenage pregnancies, substance use, school failure, while improving academic achievements. Studies have shown the positive health benefits of volunteering as it can lower the risk of high blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and lower body mass index. Another remarkable finding was that students who participated in high school extracurricular activities was linked to higher rates of volunteering and voting in presidential elections in early adulthood. Therefore, it is important to reach out to adolescents as early as possible to increase their awareness to the benefits of volunteering and also to make them aware of the social problems and empower them to see that they can make a difference as conscientious citizens.

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