Volunteering and Public Service

Once there were only a few volunteering opportunities for teens. Today's teen world is ripe with more volunteering opportunities than one can imagine, and most, if not all, are excellent ways for girls to develop emotional maturity through responsibility, leadership, and a feeling of success in helping others.

Why Volunteering Helps

This is an easy one: because it's not all about her. Adolescent girls tend to think the world revolves around them and that no one, no one has it harder or tougher than they do. Everyone should be working to make sure their lives are better. Getting into a volunteer situation shows a girl that she has much good in her life, and there are others who are more in need of assistance than she is. Volunteering also shows a girl, firsthand, that she can make a positive difference in someone's life and in the world at large. You'd be surprised how many teen girls don't have any idea that they truly can change the world. A good volunteering situation drives that home.

Volunteering means scheduling your time, making a commitment, and following through with it. While your daughter may balk at taking out the trash, she's less likely to blow off the special lunch her volunteer group has planned for foster children in her area. The idea of “letting someone down” becomes clearer in these situations, and in the end, should transfer over to life in general. And then of course there's the practical benefit of volunteering: girls learn job skills they may not be able to in the kind of paying jobs they are given at their age (coordinating a party or helping with the elderly is a big responsibility), and they gain valuable fodder for their college applications. All this is a bonus, but don't push your child to volunteer for those reasons. Just help her see those as a nice byproduct.

How to Know Where to Volunteer

Most schools have volunteer programs your daughter can link into, but there are also opportunities beyond school that she can look into. Find out if there is a particular nonprofit organization she might be interested in. Does she have a good friend who is fighting cancer or diabetes? That could be good motivation to step up and call a local chapter of the American Cancer Society or Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to ask if she can be a volunteer. This is a nice way to step into volunteering, and having a personal connection always fuels passion in such programs. Does she feel strongly about the environment? She could find a group that's working to clean the water, or she could help arrange a town-wide clean up day. Has she always loved animals? The local pet shelter may need a hand or even a fundraiser. The possibilities are endless and can easily be tailored to her interests and concerns.

Fact

A great place for kids to get ideas on volunteering is www.dosomething.org. The site, started by actor Andrew Shue, is a central point for many student volunteers.

While it would be nice for your child to find one passion and continue to volunteer for it for a lifetime, it's okay to switch from time to time. Just as adults work to find the right career fit, girls sometimes need to test out different missions to find the one that matches her passion. But don't let her drop a charity in the middle of a needy time. If she stepped up to run the local diabetes walk, she needs to see it through. Once that task is done, it's okay to move on if she's found another cause she feels passionately about. Volunteer jobs, because they mean so much to so many, can even teach responsibility more than a paying job. Conscience weighs in, and your girl learns a valuable lesson from it — another step toward emotional maturity.

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