by Jamie Littlefield
Character. Self-esteem. Kindness. These are traits any parent would like to see in their developing child. Yet, such characteristics are not easily formed in front of the TV, computer, or video game console. In order to develop positive personality traits, young people need the chance to step outside of their own lives and help others.
Nine to twelve year olds, often known as “tweens,” can particularly benefit from the experience of serving their communities. No longer children, but not quite teenagers, these young people are increasingly faced with adult issues. The confidence and values instilled by serving others can help tweens make it through the challenging situations they will encounter as they get older. You can help your tween prepare for adult life and develop positive character traits by encouraging her to volunteer.
Benefits of Tween Volunteerism
Helping others can have a lasting impact on the life of your tween. As volunteers, tweens are able to assert their independence and make a real difference in their communities. They learn how to respect people with differences. They become more considerate of others. They develop communication and leadership skills. Youth that volunteer just one hour a week are 50% less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or engage in destructive behavior. They are more likely to do well in school and to graduate.
Teaching your tween to volunteer can also help him establish a lifetime of service and civil responsibility. Studies show that youth who volunteer are three times more likely to volunteer as adults. These young volunteers are more likely to vote and be philanthropic when they get older.
Before Volunteering: Help Your Tween Choose a Volunteer Project
Before your tween volunteers, meet with him to discuss the opportunities available. Let your tween assert his independence when selecting a volunteer project. You may wish to suggest a handful of projects, but don’t pressure your tween into a particular choice.
Take these considerations into account:
- Your child’s interests: Tweens usually have the best experience when they volunteer for a cause they care about and work on a project they consider fun. Ask your child how he feels about animal welfare, children’s issues, environmental protection, health and safety, and other activist causes. If your child is interested in dogs, let him make comfort blankets for a local shelter. If your child is interested in hands-on activities, encourage him to plant a tree. Try to find a project that focuses on something other than fundraising. Although earning money for an organization can be a worthy cause, most fundraising projects are less effective at building character.
- Your child’s skills: Make a list of your tween’s talents and abilities. Some tweens are good at working with younger children. Some tweens have computer skills that a nonprofit office would find valuable. Your tween’s skills can help guide him to select a service project. But, keep in mind that learning a new skill is also a good way to grow.
- Time requirements: Before your child commits to a project, make sure there is a clear understanding about how much time will be dedicated to the activity. Some volunteer projects require weekly or even daily appointments which may be difficult to fit between school and family schedules. Flexible volunteerism activities, such as those found on Charity Guide’s volunteer directory, can be done at any time.
- Transportation and adult supervision: If the project requires transportation or an adult chaperone, make sure that you (or another adult) will be available. Many of the flexible service projects featured at Charity Guide are particularly suited to tweens as they do not require the use of a car.
During Volunteering: Offer Support, Not Pressure
While your tween is volunteering, be available to offer support and advice. Keep in mind that your tween is likely to experience both highs and lows as she enters into this new experience.
You may offer suggestions to your tween. But, do not pressure her to do it your way. Sometimes making mistakes is the best way to learn. A tween’s poorly publicized food drive can help her develop leadership skills for the next attempt. The consequences of a tween’s missed appointment can help her learn responsibility.
After Volunteering: Talk to Your Tween
After your tween has completed a volunteer project, take a few minutes to discuss his experiences. What has he learned? What does he feel proud about? What would he do differently next time? Which volunteerism project does he want to tackle next? Suggest that your tween record his experience in a journal.
What Real Tweens Have to Say about Volunteering
It’s amazing what tweens can accomplish when they set out to make the world a better place. Consider the examples of these everyday tween volunteers:
Tween volunteer Jessica collected donations of fleece material to create security blankets. She organized a group of girls to help her cut and tie the blanket ends. The blankets were distributed to children who needed comfort after an accident. Jessica says: “Doing this project made me feel good because I knew I was helping other children. I felt good that because of my actions other people would get involved and maybe help other people too.”
Tween volunteer Emily gave toys to a family of young children during the holiday season. “I hope it gave them a feeling of belonging as if someone actually cared and that there are good people out there,” she says. “It made me feel really good because I knew I was helping someone else. It helps you grow too.”
Tween volunteer Katie helped younger girls build self esteem by assisting with the organization of a “princess party.” Katie helped make the food and ran the educational party games. She taught the young participants about using good manners. “I felt like I had accomplished something and I made them feel happy” she says.
Recommended Volunteerism Projects for Tweens Working Independently
Many tweens are capable of doing volunteer projects on their own. The service projects below may require an adult’s help to set up or to complete the project. However, the majority of the work can be done independently by the tween (with a parent’s permission).
- Send a Get Well Soon Card to a Hospitalized Child
- Prevent Bullying
- Compost to Reduce Landfills
- Reduce Global Warming
- Donate Your Ponytail
- Make Pet Blankets and Toys for Animal Shelters
- Promote Reading: Share Books
- Organize an Eyeglasses Collection Drive
- Knit or Crochet a Teddy Bear for an Orphan
- Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Really!)
Recommended Volunteerism Projects for Tweens Working with an Adult
Some service projects require adult supervision. The volunteer projects listed below can be done with a tween and an adult working together.
- Create a Backyard Habitat
- Save Bluebirds by Hosting Bluebird Houses
- Plant a Native Tree
- Help Girls Excel in Math and Science
- Switch to Natural Cleaning Products
- Organize a “Walking School Bus”
- Reduce Graffiti Tagging
- Collect Suitcases for Foster Care Children
- Give Used Bicycles a Home Among the Homeless
- Volunteer with Your Pet
Whatever service project your tween chooses, be proud that she is making a difference in the world. Not only will her service benefit the community, her actions will help her grow into a confident, kind adult.