We all have a vested interest in seeing teenagers succeed. Regular access to civic-engagement opportunities can lead to better outcomes for teens and their communities. Teens who volunteer are more likely to perform better in school and work, and become civically active adults. Below, we discuss some of the many benefits of teen volunteerism, and how teen volunteers can make valuable contributions to your organization:
“There is mounting evidence that volunteering, participating in service projects and other forms of community involvement are more than feel-good activities. They can contribute to better outcomes for youth and for communities.” Opportunity Nation
Develops transferable skills
Teens who volunteer regularly practice skills—like collaboration and problem solving—that are vital to succeed in academics, the workplace, and in their personal lives. Whether it’s collecting donations or caring for the elderly, youth develop an understanding of citizenship that extends into adulthood. Plus, volunteering helps teens fill their resumes with robust, real-world experience; colleges and employers look for civically engaged applicants who will strive in team settings and take on challenging work.
Makes real change
Volunteering gives youth the opportunity to work through real challenges and make meaningful change. These transformative experiences encourage teens to confront moral dilemmas, investigate solutions, and employ innovative thinking. If a teen volunteer regularly tutors a younger child who struggles with his homework, the volunteer can learn to identify the child’s needs and find innovative ways to help the student learn more effectively. Eventually, the volunteer should see the child’s grades improve. As a result, this volunteer would be able to establish a cognitive connection between effort and positive outcomes. According to this article, teens become engaged citizens when they see themselves as agents of change. Teenagers who volunteer regularly develop a civic identity, as leaders and changemakers, and become more socially and politically engaged as adults.
As youth grow, they learn to develop a sense of self-awareness, and an awareness of others. Volunteers put their own needs aside to address the needs of others in the community while simultaneously learning to value and understand themselves. Empathy and citizenship are developed during childhood and adolescence, and participating in activities like caring for the elderly or addressing homelessness from an early age introduces young people to the process of confronting moral dilemmas and thinking about social change. Exposure to meaningful volunteer opportunities as children and adolescents will help to foster lasting empathy and inclusivity, qualities necessary in cultivating safe, unified communities.
Reinforces social capital
Teens who volunteer build relationships and strengthen their support network, or “social capital.” According to this report, social capital strengthens trust and sense of community and is critical to upward mobility. Volunteer opportunities for low-income teens are especially integral in facilitating meaningful connections and sourcing educational pathways:
“Research shows [civic engagement] can serve as an effective conduit to positive educational and career outcomes for low-income youth.” Opportunity Nation
Supports academic success
Nonprofits and volunteer centers have begun to partner with local campuses to develop service-learning and other volunteer programs. From them, we’ve learned that across all socioeconomic levels, teens who volunteer are less likely to be disconnected from school and work. In fact, 82% of students who participated in service learning reported increased positive feelings about attending high school. Civic engagement opportunities paired with a good education are the success “power couple” for today’s youth. Nonprofits and schools together can develop a teen volunteerism program to support a rising generation of engaged citizens.
How teen volunteerism can benefit your organization
Teens who volunteer see countless benefits. There are also plenty of advantages to engaging young volunteers with your organization: you can incorporate new skills and ideas into your programs, foster a community of trust, and encourage lifelong volunteerism.
Builds safer communities
Teens who volunteer are 50% less likely to engage in risky behaviors; are less likely to become pregnant and use drugs, and are more likely to experience psychological well-being. According to the 2017 Opportunity Index, thriving communities provide an infrastructure that supports civic participation (such as volunteerism and voting), health, education and work-life. Second only to youth disconnection, increased incarceration levels is an indicator most associated with opportunity deficiency for young people. Young people who are supported by their communities are less likely to become incarcerated as adults, and a more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. By providing opportunities for teen volunteerism, your organization can work to strengthen trust and build a sense of unity among your community’s diverse members.
Spreads the good
According to this 2014 study, 39% of 12th-grade students in the U.S. volunteer. Your organization can tap into this population and significantly increase your volunteer pool. With their vast social networks, teens make for great volunteer recruiters! Encourage your teen helpers to invite their friends, and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish together.
Introduces fresh perspectives
Young people can be eager to learn and contribute. By engaging teen volunteers, your organization welcomes energetic perspectives and new ideas. Generally, involving a cross-section of volunteers can help your programs move forward:
“In our changing world, where information and practices move at the speed of the Internet, determinedly maintaining the status quo can be a dangerous strategy. Today’s youth are the leaders and consumers of tomorrow. Their opinions and input can help voluntary organizations adapt to change and be prepared to meet the needs of the future.” Volunteer Canada: New Strategies for Involving Youth
Fosters lifelong engagement
You’ll not only increase your volunteer pool in the short-term, but you may also create a lifelong relationship. That’s because teens who volunteer are more likely to become philanthropic adults invested in their communities. So, reach out to parents and teachers to develop regular programs specifically for teen volunteerism; today’s youth just may become your biggest supporters for years to come!
Participation in volunteer and civic opportunities from an early age instills empathy, encourages a sense of citizenship, and helps youth find pathways to meaningful education and work. In fact, young people who volunteer help to improve the present, while ensuring healthy, secure futures for themselves and their communities.
Stay tuned for our next article on ways to engage teens with your volunteer organization!
Also published on Medium.