A great way to protect kids from bullying is to get involved with activities that strengthen self-esteem and self-respect. Volunteering is a great place to start. Kids feel good about themselves when they’re doing something good for others. Volunteers (and other kids with strong self-esteem) are more immune to teasing and bullying, less likely to bully, and less likely to stand by and watch others being bullied. These kids have empathy and respect for others.
There are huge upsides for teens who volunteer. Sociologist Jane Allyn Piliavin, quoted in US News & World Report, says:
- They’re healthier. Teen volunteers use drugs and alcohol much less and have far fewer pregnancies
- They have better grades and lower dropout rates
- They feel good about themselves. They have higher self-esteem, a sense of social connection and belonging, again making them more resistant to bullying
Young volunteers are part of a huge community! According to VolunteeringInAmerica.gov, in the US alone, 14 million millenials (mostly teens) volunteered in 2012, contributing 1.4 billion hours to their communities (worth about $20 billion to the American economy!). Wow!
The positive effects spin off well into adulthood. Volunteers live longer and feel happier than non-volunteers. Francesca Borgonovi of the London School of Economics believes volunteers are happier because they’re less focused on what other people have and more attentive to what other people need and what they themselves can give. It’s a helpful grounding tool for teens, who feel everything intensely, and sometimes lose perspective on how great life is, despite the inevitable challenges. No matter how down you might feel, there’s always someone who’s having a tougher time and needs a helping hand.
Wondering how to encourage your child to volunteer? Here are some easy ways to get the ball rolling:
- Volunteer as a family. There are many great volunteer opportunities like environmental clean-up days and food banks where your whole family can share in the experience, building relationships not just with others, but within your own family. This link on Parents.com provides links to a variety of organizations that encourage families and kids to volunteer.
- Volunteering as a family is extremely important if you want your kids to take to heart the value of volunteering. Even though adults can perhaps be more effective with their money (donations), your kids need to see you physically engaged in helping others. So keep donating, but make some time every week or every month for volunteer tasks in your neighborhood or community.
- Start small. Kids can be so over-extended these days, so make sure that volunteering doesn’t become “one more chore.” Keep it simple. Shovel a neighbor’s walk or help a senior to the car with her groceries. Tutor or read to kids in an after-school or weekend program. Pick toys for the local children’s hospital. Deliver toys, toiletries, or food to a woman’s shelter.
- Pick an activity your kids want to do. Have a family discussion to generate ideas and make some choices. Join a construction project at Habitat for Humanity or help build scenery at the local amateur theater company. Sing holiday songs for seniors at a local seniors’ residence. Pick activities that showcase your interests and talents or that give you a chance to learn something new while helping others. Make sure the time commitment doesn’t burden your kids (or you) and give your kids hugs and compliments for their important contribution to helping others.
- Join us! Our Girls’ Respect Groups Program is all about caring and compassionate high school girls volunteering their time to help middle school girls negotiate the tough preteen years. The program is anchored by equally caring and compassionate adults who help train GRG Teen Leaders and provide logistical support. All you need is a willingness to share your time and your experience with girls who are eager to learn from you.
When kids volunteer, they quickly learn they’re not just giving of themselves, they’re giving to themselves – a sense of belonging, self-esteem and the confidence to change the world, one hour at a time.
L Blumen, Bullying Epidemic: Not Just Child’s Play, Camberley Press, 2011
L Blumen, N Evans, and A Rucchetto, Girls’ Respect Groups: An Innovative Program to Empower Young Women & Build Self-Esteem!, Camberley Press, 2009
F Borgonovi, “Doing Well By Doing Good: The Relationship between Formal Volunteering and Self-Reported Health and Happiness,” Social Science & Medicine, June 2008, p 2321-2334
B Schiller, Volunteering Makes You Happier, Fastcoexist.com, Sept 3, 2013
Volunteering and Civic Engagement in Millenials 2012, VolunteeringInAmerica.gov