Volunteering Can Help Teens Facing Emotional Challenges

Community engagement can helps teens with and without emotional problems.

Posted Feb 13, 2019

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

Twitter - public domain
Twitter - Dalai Lama
Source: Twitter - public domain

Teens can learn a great deal by helping others. Whether a teen volunteers to help children, seniors, or animals, there are benefits for both the receiving community and the teen. 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 one's 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 and 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.

Twitter - public domain
Twitter - Jack Kornfeld
Source: Twitter - public domain

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 and more. They can learn discrete skills as well as 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' curricula 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 community service. Some already had an interest in animals while 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 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. Volunteering is a valuable route to reform children and teens who are starting to go off the rails.

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