Kids and Service Hours

    Benefits Go Both Ways

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    My 12-year-old has a community service program at her middle school. It’s not required, but I can’t decide if I should encourage it or not. I think it’s a good idea, but it feels like one more responsibility she might not be able to handle. What are your thoughts?

    I encourage children of all ages and families to volunteer whenever the opportunity arises. There is so much to be gained from participating in community service. Volunteers of any age have greater empathy as they are able to experience first-hand a situation different from their own.

    Being able to relate to and understand others’ feelings and experiences is a great social skill. Community service will help your daughter develop empathy. At twelve, volunteering will also help your daughter learn more about herself. This knowledge can have unlimited potential in impacting her future. She will have the opportunity to think about what she enjoys, what she excels at, and what bores her. This insight is invaluable, and the new experiences she has with community service can help shape her future.

    Also, community service can expose her to different adults and new leadership styles. She may learn new time-management techniques that work in real-world applications and fit into her busy world. She will experience the sense of completing tasks in a given time-frame, which is a satisfying outcome for anyone. She will be exposed to various management techniques that will help shape her as a leader, and she may be fortunate enough to find a new mentor as she navigates adolescence.

    Children today are more connected to the world than ever via the Internet, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, but in many ways, they are also less connected to their communities and neighbors. When groceries are ordered online and delivered and entire conversations occur via text, children miss being in their neighborhoods and interacting with different people. Families today can live in an insulated environment. Volunteering will expose your daughter to aspects of the community that are new to her. It will help her to connect with someone or something that isn’t a part of her daily routine, thus expanding her world. This will improve her ability to be a global citizen as she experiences her community on a personal level.

    I also predict your daughter’s self-esteem will be positively affected as she begins to identify herself as a helper, a problem-solver, and a doer. These feelings create a sense of self-reliance and competency that young teenagers crave. You can help foster these feelings with questions after she volunteers: How did you make a difference? Believe me, having someone make copies in an office, play games at the community center, clean kennels at an animal shelter, or read stories to seniors or preschoolers is a valuable experience in and of itself, but it also allows someone else to accomplish different tasks. Volunteers always make a difference.

    With the holidays approaching, the timing is perfect for your daughter to become involved in her school’s community service program. The upcoming school breaks may ease your concerns of responsibilities as she has more downtime in her schedule. The overall feeling of thankfulness and giving that surrounds the holiday season will help her be in the spirit of giving. You and your daughter know best what she can manage, but if the scheduling can be resolved, community service is always beneficial. And if it is a good fit, your daughter will be motivated to make the responsibilities work as she will enjoy her experience. I would encourage her to try it out!

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    Denise Noble
    Denise Noble is a mom of two and has master’s degree in counselor education. She is affiliated with famrichmond.org, the parenting education arm of Greater Richmond SCAN, and has coached parents and worked with families for nearly twenty years.