During the last month, we have been thinking a great deal about the importance of teaching our students to give to others by getting involved in service projects. While we have done this with the canned food drive and planting at a farm, it is also important to participate in giving activities as a family. This process helps to encourage teens to be good “givers” rather than just “receivers.”
Powerful lessons that can be learned from service to others are tolerance, compassion, responsibility, perspective-taking, and citizenship.
Each year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Family Volunteer Day is recognized. This year, the day falls on November 23. This is a national day of service aimed at helping “families spend quality time together while working toward a greater good.” It is also a great day to create shared memories and traditions within your family.
You might ask, “Why is it important to get my family involved in service projects?” Not only is it a way to demonstrate respect for others and for teaching responsibility, but it can also teach children to learn how fortunate they are and then to be able to take the perspective of another. Teens and children need to be taught the act of giving or service to others; it is not innate to be selfless.
Too often, our reasons for giving are not altruistic, and others may sense this. Some of us give out of a sense of obligation or guilt or because we receive a tax benefit. Other times, “giving things” is the only way we know to show we care or that we love someone. Others give because they feel that “giving” makes them look good in the eyes of their family, friends or colleagues. Service to others, if done with the right attitude, can provide an avenue to strengthen our families and our communities.
A family service project can help to move us beyond passive giving and become active givers. One way to teach this lesson is to encourage your teens to put away a portion of their allowance or earnings each week for “giving” projects. This money can then be used for buying gifts, supporting a charity or participating in a service project. For example, our students might choose to purchase their own hat, mittens or scarf for our annual Hat and Mitten Tree that begins in December. A gift that results in a sacrifice of time and money will have a longer, lasting impact.
Start a new family tradition this year -- a tradition that involves the entire family in a service project, either close to home or within the community. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” Let’s challenge each other to model gracious giving and service to others, as well as teach our youth to experience the joy that comes from each person making a difference in the life of someone else.