Teach children to be grateful givers

It’s the time of year when many of us plan big family meals, decorate our homes and start holiday shopping. At the same time, we have all heard the phrase “it’s better to give than to receive.” Yet, amidst the holiday hustle and bustle, how do we teach our children to go beyond consumerism to focus on gratitude and the needs of others?

November is National Philanthropy Month, so now is the perfect time to engage our children in community service. Not only will recipients of the service or donation benefit, but participation in civic engagement also offers clear benefits to kids.

Jill Gordon with the Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana says philanthropy both facilitates and fosters youth development. Research shows that simple community service, such as donating food or outgrown clothing, can help young children develop empathy. Teen volunteerism is linked to lower drug use and pregnancy rates, lower risk of suicide and stronger academic outcomes.

Research also shows that kids involved in community service become adults who typically have a stronger work ethic, continue to volunteer and have higher voting rates.

Researchers with Child Trends found teen volunteerism rates have increased. More than a third of high school seniors report volunteering at least once a month. Rates are higher in youth planning to attend college. Female students are more likely to volunteer than males, with the gender gap growing between eighth, 10th and 12th grades. Within Indiana, 43.2 percent of 6- to 17-year-olds volunteered in 2016, placing us at the national average but slightly lower than neighboring states.

More than a decade ago The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis started the Power of Children Awards to showcase kids who make a difference in their communities. From helping seniors access email, to increasing educational opportunities for girls in India, to supporting children with cancer, the impact of these young philanthropists is amazing. The one consistent factor in their dedication, says Debbie Young, director of volunteer services with the museum, is that they identify, engage and/or design projects that hold special meaning for them.

Nonprofit organizations and schools can spark interest by showing kids how to translate their passions and skills into action by actively talking to them about community needs and the impact of nonprofits. Many community organizations offer family volunteer options, allowing parents and children to serve side-by-side.

And community foundations across Indiana engage young leaders. For example, the Dekko Foundation, based in Kendallville, has a long tradition of engaging teens, placing value on meaningful philanthropic opportunities at home, school and within the community. Above all, experts advise that young people have a voice in and ownership of their commitment.

Teaching children the value of civic engagement and volunteerism often starts at home, and parents and family members serve as crucial role models for giving back. Parents can help children as young as three learn the behaviors and attitudes associated with community service – the ideas of caring and sharing.

Elementary students can start basic giving and service projects through faith-based and afterschool programs. We should talk to middle school children about their place in their community, including direct paths for impact. By high school, students can understand complex problems and potential solutions.

Like many of the skills we teach our children, philanthropy takes practice. Yet with benefits such as increased confidence, improved collaboration skills and a greater sense of community, training our children to serve has great rewards. During this period of thankfulness and beyond, we can all embody the spirit of Hoosier hospitality by teaching our children to take care of our neighbors, our communities and our world.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.
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