Volunteering can help teens with and without emotional challenges

Many teens have the classic teen angst and some have a dissatisfied attitude. Others face true depressive feelings. One way to work through this is to help others in the greater community. The Dalai Lama tweeted about this topic as seen below.

Teens can learn a great deal by helping others. Whether a teen volunteers to help children, seniors, or animals the benefits go both ways. Teens can learn compassion and empathy, gain self-esteem, broaden their social circle, and explore career or hobby interests. By volunteering with the less fortunate teens can see other teens who not only lack the latest smartphone but perhaps also lack stable housing or clothing and food. It can really give a teen perspective about their life’s troubles. Working with those with disabilities can help foster gratitude about ones own life and abilities. Teens and young adults can learn valuable life skills by volunteering whether it is office skills, teaching skills, cleaning and organizing skills or more. Teens with depression and despair may particularly benefit. Giving to others creates bonds which can stimulate oxytocin a feel-good body chemical that boosts mood and promotes well-being. Seeing how you make a difference and are appreciated is mood lifting.

In addition to improving their mental and emotional outlook teens can gain valuable life experience by volunteering. They can explore careers involving children, seniors, animals, sociology, business, food service or more. They can learn discrete skills as well interpersonal skills in how to work with co-workers, supervisors, and the public. Without volunteering or working a job teens can have a hard time expanding their social circle beyond family and schoolmates. Broadening a social circle can introduce children to different ideas and values and open their eyes to a diversity of opinions. Volunteering can build self-esteem and confidence. Teens who see how their effort helps others can see self-efficacy in action. Scouting has known this for years. Eagle Scouting teens who build structures or set up programs to help others have a great boost in self-confidence and pride of accomplishment. It is a formative experience. Teens who are looking to attend college or applying for scholarships or military academies can gain valuable letters of reference.

Required volunteering is part of some schools curriculums and often is part of the rehabilitation of teens who get into trouble with the law. I previously worked for a non-profit wild animal hospital where many teens and adults came to do their community service. Some already had in interest in animals others were just going through the motions of serving their time with the least amount of effort possible. Some began going through the motions, but then once assigned a project such as organizing an area or building a pond for ducks they developed pride in their work and a sense of accomplishment. It is a valuable route to reform children and teens who are starting to go off the rails.

In all most all children and teens can benefit from community engagement by volunteering and perhaps even more so for teens facing emotional challenges.

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