Q. When I suggested to my 15-year-old that she find a volunteer position, she said she’d rather hang out with friends or listen to music, and if she were going to work, she wanted to be paid. Then she asked, “What’s the big deal with volunteering anyway?” I didn’t have an answer for her. What do you think?

A. I’m a big fan of kids volunteering. Even though, as your daughter pointed out, volunteering is not paid work, there are many benefits—some are immediate, while others come later, such as when competing for  scholarships or applying to colleges.

Here are some benefits of volunteering:

  1. Working with people or animals who need help promotes the development of empathy: the ability to look beyond your own needs and see others’ needs.
  1. Friends and family appreciate you more for helping others and doing good work.
  1.  Helping others promotes self-pride in  accomplishment.
  1. Volunteering can lead to a paid job.
  2. Volunteer work can provide that extra positive on an application that gets you selected for a scholarship, job or school.
  1.  Working in a field that interests you can help you decide about future studies and career goals.

When children are small, it’s easy to interest them in volunteering by taking them along with you to volunteer. It’s much more challenging to motivate a teen to volunteer. The teen years are a time when your child is asserting her independence and wanting to make her own decisions. She doesn’t want you to tell her what to think or do.

While you could demand that your daughter volunteer or bribe her to do so, I don’t suggest those approaches. It’s more likely she will volunteer successfully if she makes that decision herself.

Here are some ways to help her decide whether she wants to volunteer:

  1.  Model volunteering yourself, and invite your daughter to go with you on occasion. Choose something that interests you and might interest her, as well.
  1. If your daughter could benefit from a tutor, find a college student who can not only tutor, but can share stories of volunteer experiences with your daughter.
  1.  Start a conversation with something like, “I know you said you don’t want to volunteer, but if you ever changed your mind, what sort of work would you like to do?” The answer could be, “I don’t know.” Be prepared with a list of ideas for volunteer opportunities .
  1.  Find opportunities to volunteer (either together with you or on her own) in another country. Often, these are available through charitable organizations and churches. Don’t push them as “must dos,” but rather as ideas to consider for the future. Plant the seed, which could grow into wanting to volunteer.

Even with your best efforts, you may not be able to get your daughter to volunteer. She told you that she would like to be paid for work, which might be an indication she’ll get a part time job after school, on the weekends or during the summer. Many of the most successful young people I’ve met have had jobs while in high school. Volunteering, part time work and involvement in sports are some of the most rewarding activities for teens.

Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.

Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!

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