Community activities, volunteering and civic responsibility
Community activity is part of ‘civic responsibility’. It’s about doing things because we want to give back to our communities or help others.
Your child can learn about civic responsibility and be active in your community by:
joining an environmental or clean-up group
helping with a primary school play, or coordinating or coaching junior sport
setting up an arts space
being part of a youth advisory group through the local council
promoting causes – for example, environmental issues and charities.
Your child might be interested in online civic or community activities – for example, an online campaign to reduce the use of plastic. Online community involvement can motivate teenagers to get involved in face-to-face community activities.
Benefits of being involved in community activities and volunteering
It doesn’t matter what teenagers do for their communities. Any involvement is good! When teenagers get involved in community activities and volunteering, they get many personal rewards and feelings of achievement.
By getting involved with community activities, teenagers can come into contact with like-minded peers and positive adult role models other than their parents. Interacting and cooperating with other adults and peers in community organisations encourages teenagers to see the world in different ways. It also helps them see how to put values or beliefs into action for the good of others.
Identity and connection
Young people are busy working out who they are and where they fit in the world. Being involved in community activities can give your child a:
a positive way of understanding who they are
a sense of belonging in their local community
an opportunity to make new friendships and connections.
Community activities give teenagers the chance to apply the skills they already have. For example, your child could use the cooking skills they’ve learned at home at a food bank.
Volunteer work and community activities are also great opportunities to show initiative and develop workplace skills. For example, volunteering for Meals on Wheels might help your child prepare for part-time work as a waiter. And helping out at an animal shelter is a good way to learn how to groom or care for animals.
Being able to manage free time while balancing leisure, work and study is an important life skill. Being part of community activities could motivate your child to get more organised and start to manage their own time.
Self-confidence, mental health and wellbeing
Community activities can boost teenagers’ self-confidence and self-esteem. Your child can learn to deal with challenges, communicate with different people and build up their life skills in a supportive environment.
It’s also a great foundation for mental health and wellbeing.
Young people often feel good about being involved in something where others expect them to turn up, where they feel helpful and valued, and where they’re supported to achieve something as part of a group. These positive feelings can help protect young people from sadness and depression.
Being involved in positive community activity can also reduce the likelihood of substance abuse, mental illness and criminal activity.
Encouraging involvement in community activities and volunteering
There are many ways for your child to be involved from early on.
Your child might get involved naturally in some of the things you do – helping out at preschool, spending weekends at local festivals, or swapping favours with other families.
Your child is also more likely to get involved if their friends are. So you could suggest that your child takes part in an activity with a friend who’s already involved.
Take your child’s personality into account
Is your child a quiet, slow-to-warm-up character, who might like to observe the first few times? Perhaps bringing a close friend along to a ‘clean up the park day’ would be a good start. Or does your child love leading and being in the limelight? Then mentoring a group of primary school children doing a school performance might appeal.
Model civic responsibility
Take your child with you if you drop off a meal to a new parent or help someone move furniture. You can explain that it feels good to do things for others. You could also try taking your child to a rally or campaign event so they can see other young people engaged in broader community activities and issues.
Help your child get started
If your child wants to get involved but is a bit worried about it, a family approach might help. You might try joining a basketball, soccer or photography club as a family. Or you and your child could join an art group or community theatre together.
Your child might need your help to make the first contact with a group. If you make some initial calls for your child, you might be able to increase their chances of success.
Some organisations have a minimum age for volunteers, so it’s worth finding this out early on.
Build on what your child is already doing
If your child isn’t that interested in community activities, one option is to accept this and just keep an eye out for future opportunities. But if you feel a push in the right direction is needed, you could try to build on things they’re already doing.
For example, if your child is in the debating team at school, they might enjoy a junior toastmasters group or an opportunity to speak up on a youth issue. If your child enjoys team sports, they could help out with some junior coaching. If your child has done some fundraising at school, they might like to put this experience into practice raising funds for a children’s home.
You could also encourage your child to think about their family, friends and neighbours to see whether there’s someone they could help – a new parent or an elderly neighbour, for example.
Child safety in community and volunteer organisations
It’s essential that your child is safe when doing community activities or working for volunteer organisations.
For example, depending on your child’s age, you might decide to meet any adults your child is going to work with, or ensure the adult volunteers or workers have a working with children (WWC) check. You could also agree on ground rules with your child about where they’re allowed to do community work. For example, you might agree that a public facility or space is okay, but a private home isn’t.
Your child might find out about community activities and volunteering opportunities on social media. You could also find out about opportunities from SG Cares.
© raisingchildren.net.au, translated and adapted with permission