So here is the not-so-new advice you need to consider: Volunteer. And when you volunteer, bring your kids. At any age. Do it. Volunteering is a game changer.
Fast forward to high school for just one moment – gasp – and you will learn that a Ministry requirement for graduation is 40 hours of community service. Now, I’m not great at math, but forty hours amounts to one hour a month for every month they are in school over a four year time period. And that doesn’t sound so hard, right?
Well it’s not. But it may feel that way to your kid – and you – if they’ve never experienced the truly meaningful elements that come from volunteer experiences. The real way to achieve this is to teach children, from an early age, to find value in providing service while expecting nothing else in return – aside from the gratification from helping others.
This ‘nothing in return’ concept is also not new. In a world of instant gratification, and rewards and trophies for virtually everything, teaching kids that you don’t get a reward, or a present, or money for simply doing something good can solve a whole lot of the complaints that keep circling about “this generation”.
The ideas of self-absorption, entitlement, lack of resilience, lack of empathy, limited understanding of “real struggle” seem to be unavoidable topics when hearing people’s thoughts on their friends’ kids, the neighbours’ kids, or even their own kids. And while sometimes I think our kids have been given an overwhelmingly large amount of flack for things that aren’t always true, the fact that people keep talking about these elements says to me that somewhere we are missing our role in this issue.
If we are really worried about how kids behave, what are we doing to help them change? How are we supporting them to understand the value in helping others, just because?
Last night, while there were a bunch of teenagers trick-or-treating, I have to admit that my usually cold heart was warmed by the sight of a group of teenagers who, instead of asking for candy, asked for canned goods to support local food banks.
Now, I can’t guarantee that these teenagers had volunteerism embedded into their world from an early age, but I would bet my kids’ candy that this wasn’t their first go at setting out in the cold to support others instead of themselves.
Truthfully, to really reap the benefits of volunteering, the concept needs to go beyond simply thinking I need to, or my parent told me to, or I must to graduate, and instead believing that this is just something else I do. Because it’s a great thing. Because I can help, so why shouldn’t I?
Maybe the first step is understanding the concept of empathy. Volunteering simply because you feel bad for someone is, in a way, misguided and probably not the genuine way of instilling a genuine compassion for people who are having a rough time.
Food banks aren’t simply for the homeless. Food banks support families where the caregiver(s) recently lost primary source of income. Food banks support women who are leaving abusive households. Children, who like them, do better at school when their bellies are full.
Being empathetic to these situations means that we can now try to understand what it’s like to be hungry, and how food is essential to anyone’s success.
Spending time at an elderly centre isn’t simply valuable because granny is lonely and you should read her a story. Spending time in an old age facility helps kids (and adults, really) understand that all people – especially the elderly – have a wealth of knowledge to share and are part of our community. And if you are lucky to live that long, it’d be nice to have someone spend time listening to your stories or doing a puzzle together.
Donating clothes and presents isn’t a punishment. Telling kids that you will donate all their stuff to kids who “will really appreciate it” will hold little value until kids understand that some things are more important than stuff.
Visiting places and volunteering time with kids, who (like them), enjoy playing and exploring and reading, is probably a greater joy than just putting things in a bag after they’ve been used enough, and dropping them into a donations box.
And if we really want to show the value of volunteering our time, debunking the notion that only people in “other countries” or in “other continents” are the only people that need our help, is a good place to start.
Volunteering may not solve all of the world’s problems. It may not be the key to solving the entitlement that seems to be reeking havoc on our society as of late, but it’s a great place to start. And it doesn’t need to start when school tells them they need to either. It starts now. In small ways, with little steps, and big hearts, and a whole lot of learning.
Ask your kids what they are passionate about and start from there. Use this as their entry point, and the possibilities are endless. You may just be surprised by what they accomplish. And that’s the best reward, by far.
Where do you volunteer with your kiddies? We’d love some fresh ideas!