Image: San Jose Library
During childhood and adolescence, young people tend to be preoccupied with fitting in and creating a niche for themselves, often jumping from hobby to hobby trying to find the right fit. Getting involved in a social cause can be an opportunity for young people to make friends, find a comfortable identity and fit into a supportive community.
And volunteering has other benefits, too. There’s evidence for a link between social action and improved academic performance, and for young people at the beginning of their careers volunteering is a good way to gain useful skills in a rewarding environment.
The internet is one way children can learn about a cause or campaign and it's a useful resource to both find out more, and to follow the progress of something they feel strongly about. Social media campaigns by charities and organisations, in particular, can often inspire young people to become engaged.
Some people have criticised social media 'slacktivism', saying that changing your profile picture or reposting an infographic isn't really the same thing as working for change. Whatever you think of social media campaigns, though, they can be a good jumping off point to start thinking about volunteering. Even if your children are already aware of the issues associated with viral campaigns like the ice bucket challenge (which began to promote awareness of motor neurone disease - known as ALS in the USA), they might not have thought about the online and offline ways they could help out. If you're keen for your child to get involved, you could try mentioning it in the context of a trending topic online related to a good cause.
Three ways to help your child get involved
- Find the right cause. There are loads of great organisations to volunteer with, but most people will have one or two issues that really grab their attention. If your child loves parks and green space, for instance, they might like to help out with an environmental project. If your child is starting to notice ways that boys and girls are treated differently, they could get involved with an organisation that advocates for gender equality.
- Research appropriate ways to get involved. There are lots of different ways to volunteer, but depending on age and ability not every task will be appropriate for every child. You and your child can reach out to local volunteer groups or charities and ask if they have any opportunities appropriate for children, or you can check out organisations like vInspired and Step up to Serve that focus on young people and volunteering.
- Do it together. Next time you’re looking for things to do at the weekend or over half term, see if there’s a volunteer project you could get involved in as a group. Making it a family activity works especially well with children who are keen to help out but not yet old enough to volunteer on their own.