When it comes to modern children, parents often have a litany of complaints. Many parents worry children today spend too much time on video games, aren’t as polite and don’t have the same work ethic compared with earlier generations. The question isn’t what’s wrong with today’s youth, however—what you should be asking instead is how you can help today’s youth grow and learn. One way is through community service.
Stretch their Horizons
Community service can take place in other countries or in your own backyard. Churches have missionaries and send people to third world countries to help build structures, install wells or provide other services. However, you can also find opportunities right around the corner. Visit a nearby soup kitchen to volunteer your help, or volunteer to work at a non-profit thrift store sorting and organizing donations. Kids like going to new places and experiencing new things. It gives them a fresh perspective on their own lives, and it can show them that there’s more to the world than their television and video games.
Responsibility Through Service
A key part of the community service is getting the kids involved and engaged. It’s not enough to go to a soup kitchen and watch you work; they should also help serve. Trust them to help sort items, pick up trash, build something or improve someone else’s life in some way. Kids and teens can learn responsibility through their actions, and their service to others will teach them that not only should we can help others, but that even one person can make a small difference. This is a great way to help kids and teens feel empowered, and may even inspire them to take leadership roles at school or in their own community at home.
A New Sense of Gratitude
Do you often tell your child that she doesn’t know how good she has it? Do you tell your son that “children all over the world are starving” to get him to eat his vegetables? Kids cannot appreciate how good they have it when they have never seen someone who is truly in need. When they are at the soup kitchen and see someone with tattered shoes, they will start to make a connection. When they travel to other areas and realize that people don’t have clean water, they will start to appreciate the basic fundamentals that they for granted at home. A new appreciation for their own life starts to form, which may help with a child or teen who has an especially materialistic attitude.
Personal Growth Away from Home
If you have the opportunity to send your child on a community service trip to another city, state or even country, it can be an incredible experience. While the protective side of you will want to travel along with your child, there are also benefits to your child going without you. The personal growth that comes with being more responsible is incredible. They will still be chaperoned and protected by the other adults in attendance, but they will also feel that they are more trustworthy and responsible when you trust them to travel without you. It’s hard to let go of them for that short period, but sometimes your child can stretch her wings further if she has a little distance from her parents.
There are many benefits to community service, and your child will return home with a new appreciation for life and the value of service. Start teaching younger children by doing service around your town and community—this can include picking up trash, painting, or donating items. Teach them that being part of a community means helping each other out when you can.
Byline: Cynthia Anderson has two kids who are ARCC trip leaders, leading community service trips every year for youth across the United States.
Photo by Lee Wag