Keeping with the themes of emotional well-being and connection, this post is about the importance of community service in the lives of teens. Mind you, I am not talking about the superficial, short term community service that "looks good" on college applications. Instead, I am talking about growing up with an inherent drive to help others and be involved in giving back to a community.
I grew up believing that families tithed 10% of their annual income to the church, which in my neighborhood was the organization that managed all of the social service needs - the homeless, the domestic violence, the single-parent households, scholarships, referral to drug and alcohol treatment, etc... Whether or not that system worked, I actually do not know, but what is interesting to me, every year at tax time, I find that I have donated about 10% of my income to schools, research, the wolf sanctuary where one of my daughters volunteers every summer, and the various charities that my family, friends, students, and colleagues support.
Volunteering and being involved in community service is a great way for teens to develop a sense of inner strength -the "self" that is not reflected by their accomplishments, failures, or family status. This inner strength is what I believe emotional well-being is all about. Teens who feel good about who the are, can form and express opinions, are loving, authentic, creative, can cope with stress, set boundaries and know where they want to go - these are the teens that are doing well emotionally.
Being involved in community service helps teens think outside their own reality. They develop values, learn about personal challenges they may never face, contribute to other people's lives, or make a difference to the world by reducing global warming, increasing recycling, or saving animals from extinction. Our world is not perfect and in every community there are ways to become involved. It is easy in organizations like the Boy and Girl Scouts that integrate community service into the mission of the group, and most counties have a volunteer center or bureau that helps connect people to organizations that need, time, money, or specific skills. Local hospitals, libraries, and schools all need volunteers.
Some how, in our busy lives, this is another area of life that we, as parents and professionals, must provide encouragement and role modeling for our teens. If we are not doing anything for anyone other than ourselves, we are teaching our children that "we" are all that matters. Finding a project that the whole family can do is a great way to role-model community service, help teens "connect" to their community, and increase family time.
Good luck and I look forward to hearing about the projects you find!