Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sue Scheff: More Kids Value Giving

“You don’t get paid, but see that’s not the issue really, the issue is just helping out and you have fun while you do it.”

– Vishnu Kuttappan, 16 years old

For years, Vishnu wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor. But after volunteering at a hospital, he’s not so sure. “It’s kind of a battle,” Vishnu says, “between me, you know, sticking to medicine—and I like medicine a lot—or trying something new.”

Vishnu is part of a new trend among teens who volunteer in order not only to help their community, but also to choose a career.

“If you want to go into medicine,” Vishnu says, “you know, you can learn facts all you want, but until you’re in a hospital, you won’t really experience what it’s like.”

Teens say volunteering also teaches them respect and compassion for others.

“You don’t get paid, but see that’s not the issue really, the issue is just helping out and you have fun while you do it.”

Vishnu’s father, Dr. Muthu Kuttappan says, “I think that’s a very encouraging step and I hope other students follow, get a first hand knowledge of what is the real world.”

Experts add that when teens volunteer they are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and are more apt to do well in school.

Hospital Volunteer Coordinator Susan Esslinger says, “Hopefully when they’re 40, 50, 60, 70 years old, they’ll still have that sense of volunteerism in giving back to the community, whether it’s at a hospital or a soup kitchen or whatever the place may be.”

Tips for Parents
While many adults are convinced of a decline in the values and morals of today’s young people, recent surveys show that many teens are giving of their time to work for causes they believe in and to help those that are less fortunate. Teens find volunteer opportunities through religious organizations, school-based programs and community agencies.

There are several reasons why teens choose to volunteer:

Compassion for people in need
Feeling they can do something for a cause in which they believe
A belief that if they help others, others will help them
In addition, some teens volunteer their time in occupational fields in which they are interested. In addition to being helpful, they are able to use their experiences in deciding on future career choices.

Teens reported benefiting from their volunteer experiences in many ways, including:

Learning to respect others
Learning to be helpful and kind
Learning to understand people who are different from them
Developing leadership skills
Becoming more patient
Gaining a better understanding of good citizenship
Exploring or learning about career options
Developing new career goals
Children learn from their parents. The survey showed teens that reported having positive role models were nearly twice as likely to volunteer as those who did not. Encourage your child to volunteer by setting an example.

Youth Service America provides additional ways to increase teen volunteerism:

Ask them to volunteer.
Encourage youth to get involved at an early age. Volunteering when young creates lifelong adult volunteers.
Encourage children and young adults to participate in community groups, faith-based organizations, student government, and school projects.
Encourage a positive self-image so that young people are able to help others and contribute to their communities.
Be a mentor in your community.
Provide young people with opportunities to take courses that include and even require community service.
The Higher Education Research Institute
The Independent Sector
Youth Service America