Getting involved in the local community can boost teenagers’ confidence and self-esteem and give them a chance to build new skills. You can encourage your teen to get involved by taking part as a family or by helping your teen find activities that interest her.
Community activity and civic responsibility
Community activity is about doing things in our community because we want to or we feel we should, rather than because we have to by law.
There are lots of ways for teens to be active in your community:
- joining a local youth group (e.g. Girl Guides or Scouts Canada) or an environmental group
- coordinating or coaching junior sport
- volunteering at local festivals or community park clean-ups being part of a youth advisory group in your community
What teenagers get from being involved
It doesn’t matter what teenagers do. Any involvement is good!
Positive role models
By getting involved with community activities, teenagers can come into contact with positive adult role models other than their parents. Interacting and cooperating with other adults encourages teenagers to see the world in different ways and put their own family experiences and values into a wider context.
Identity and connection
Young people are busy working out who they are and where they fit in the world. They try out different identities, experiment with different styles of dress and might try out a range of different activities and hobbies. Being involved in community activities can give your child a positive way of understanding who she is. As a result, she might come to see herself as helpful, generous, or just a ‘good’ person in general. Being involved in community activities can also help create a sense of being connected to the community.
Community activities give teens the chance to learn new skills and apply ones they already have. For example, your child could use the cooking skills he’s learned at home at a community barbeque or a local soup kitchen. This kind of experience gives him the chance to see how many skills he has and how valuable they can be.
Volunteer work and community activities are great opportunities to show initiative and develop skills to get a job.
Self-confidence, mental health and wellbeing
Finding a community activity can boost teenagers’ self-confidence and self-esteem. Your child can learn to deal with a range of challenges, communicate with different types of people and build up his life skills and abilities in a supportive environment. Community connectedness is an important factor in positive mental health and wellbeing.
It can be very positive for young people to have something that gets them involved, where others expect them to turn up and take part, and where they’re supported to achieve something as part of a group.
Encouraging community involvement
There are lots of ways for your child to be involved from early on. Children can also be more naturally involved when they see their parents doing it. Finding the time to develop these early childhood networks with other families and local groups is a great way to encourage later involvement. Children are also more likely to get involved if their friends are. As children enter adolescence, peers become more influential in their lives. One way of encouraging community involvement might be to suggest that your child undertake an activity with a friend who might already be involved in the community.
Model community involvement
Take your child with you if you drop off a meal to a new parent or help someone move furniture. You could also try taking him to a rally or political event so he can see other young people engaged in broader community issues.
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 he’s already doing.
For example, if your child is on the debating team at school, she might enjoy a junior toastmasters group or an opportunity to speak up on a youth issue. If she enjoys team sports, she could help out with some junior coaching. If she’s done some fundraising at school, she might like to put this experience into practise raising interest and funds for a new skate park.
Helping children with special needs get connected
Young people with special needs can get just as much out of being involved in the community as other children. It’s also really important for them to be represented in all kinds of community projects. This doesn’t necessarily mean placing disability at the forefront. If your child’s interested, she could link up with a group that understands her particular needs.
Your child might prefer mainstream opportunities. His views as a young person will be valued in these activities, and his involvement will benefit other young people. You might want to consider hands-on experiences, things with tangible results and projects with a commitment to diversity.
From a practical point of view, it can help to consider your child’s needs in relation to medications, bathroom routines, eating and so on. You could also think about how to make it easy for your child to fit in.
Did you know?
Most schools run community volunteer programs. You can get involved by talking with your child about your school’s program and the benefits it’s having in the community.