Guest post to Teenology 101 by Leslie Walker, MD
Did you know that teens volunteer at nearly double the rate as adults? It’s true, nearly 55% of teenagers volunteer, mostly through their school, family or religious organizations. Only 29% percent of adults can say the same. The 2005 Youth Volunteering and Civic Engagement Survey based on Census data looked comprehensively at youth and service. You may say most kids have to do some sort of service to graduate from public and private high schools and that is why the numbers of teen volunteers is so high and drops off after age 18. But I think we would be missing something important here. Maybe we are doing something right in expecting our youth to volunteer and give back to society and they are actually getting the message, the survey found that teens most often stated they volunteer because the youth see the importance of helping others.
It is wonderful for a teen who has to depend on others for their welfare, to find that they have something to give to someone else. They also may find that they do not have to have a particular talent or wealth to make a difference or they may have the opportunity to develop mastery in a skill that will be important for them in their emerging adulthood. It is pretty hard to see a down side. A real concern is why their report of volunteering drops after age 18? I do not think people just become jaded and no longer are interested in volunteering for others, I think we do not give ourselves enough time in our daily lives as adults to sit and contemplate what could be. Recent statistics were released stating as adults many of us in the United States rarely take vacations from work, even if the time is set aside. If we are constantly working and living for the weekend just to have a moment of relax, it is hard to imagine feeling like there is time to volunteer.
I think the message we teach our youth is good in the beginning, it is important to help others; our message just shouldn’t end there. Life after high school is still filled with opportunities to connect and volunteer with others. The second message is to continue to enrich your life volunteering, illustrated best by parents who themselves take the time to balance their lives and volunteer. Young adults I have spoken to who have returned from the Peace Corps or Teach for America come back with changed perspectives on life and desire to continue their service to others as they take their place in American society. They have figured out the key to true contentment in life is not just the attainment of a monetarily successful career but to matter in quest to change a little piece of the world for the better.