The Power of Volunteering with Your Teen

Posted Thursday, June 28th, 2018 by Christina Brown, Sterling Volunteers

The Power of Volunteering with Your Teen

Let’s face it; adolescence is hard. Suddenly you are inundated by things of major importance – the basics of money, greater expectations and compounding pressure around your “future”.

Gone are the days of recess and carefree bike rides, this time is now filled with the idea of your first job, saving for a car and planning for college. It is really easy for stress levels to spike at this time in a teen’s life as they start to realize the important decisions that are coming up quickly. I had a moment recently that serves as the motivation for this blog post that I thought might be meaningful for other teen parents.

Teenage Worries Take Over

My lovely and somewhat worry-filled daughter is fifteen. On the brink of her first job and a keen understanding of the importance of a strong career choice, rarely a day goes by in my house without talk of college and life goals. A low homework grade or upcoming test can quickly snowball into a panicked conversation filled with anxiety and pressure. Regardless of reassurance, her personality type gets ahead of the moment constantly. This can be great at times and allows her to study when she doesn’t want to, however, can also lead to self-induced stress-out sessions!

Recently she was sitting at the kitchen table making a homework to-do list, with the list growing and her mind going overboard into volleyball practice, the school dance and who knows what else – the panic was upon us! I had reserved a volunteer opportunity at our local food bank a week ago for that evening, a simple two-hour shift of sorting food and good conversations with my kids! When the activity was mentioned to my daughter, her growing to-do list grew teeth! She explained to me that she just had far too much to do – three assignments, studying for a test and of course, trying to nail down a college major and life plan…. An ambitious Wednesday night…

Focusing on the Task at Hand

She was less than pleased when the “too busy” card fell flat and off to volunteer we went.

We learned the basics from our 10-minute orientation regarding what food went where and went to work. While we sorted and packaged boxes, volunteer leaders shared with us the nature of the program and how many kids would be receiving the packed food as outreach through the local school district. Our family conversation went from to-do lists to appreciation lists with the tone changing to a much more realistic mindset. We laughed as we packed peanut butter and talked about how much my kids love PB&J’s and my obsession with Kraft macaroni with tuna. We raced to pack, worked together to sort and did not think about our lives for those two hours.

Shifting Priorities

When our shift ended, we checked out and went to our car to head home. I was prepared for the tidal wave of pent-up panic to hit! Late night study session, I could make hot chocolate, does she need poster board? Let’s do this!

To my surprise when I asked her – “Okay, now we can focus on your list – where do we start?” Her calm response simply was a chapter of reading and a worksheet that might take an hour at most.

I asked her what had changed.  She responded that her “to do” list felt like much more before volunteering, but she had realized that she could manage the work differently while still getting everything done.

I was so proud of her at that moment and thought to myself how likely that shift would have happened if we had not volunteered. The answer, it would not have.

It is important to raise responsible kids that are engaged in creating their future. However, it is just as important that those kids have the perspective of what is important and where they fit into our larger communities.

In our shift we packaged 107 boxes of food and came away with much more!