From a very early age, I remember hearing my parents and teachers talk about the importance of helping others. My mother, a registered nurse, made a career out of caring for the sick and the elderly. I remember going with my grandparents on many occasions to share food and company with those in need or infirm. And at school, my elementary classes were often involved with service projects, from math contests to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to collections for local food banks and homeless shelters.
Opportunities to become involved in social causes multiplied when I entered high school and then college. I was exposed to numerous clubs and activities that focused on problems much larger than those I had ever seen in my somewhat sheltered life – issues such as domestic violence, animal abuse and neglect, and civil rights.
Yet for some children, finding opportunities to express their social consciousness might not come as easily. A lot has changed since when I grew up; the world is busier and moves at a much faster pace. Technology often takes the place of personal interaction, and children’s schedules are chock-full of meetings, practices and play dates. For many families, it may seem as if there just isn’t enough time in the day to “save the world.”
But recognizing the need to care for and support others – no matter what the organization or cause – is both important and powerful and can make a tremendous impact on our world. Even more so, these efforts can make a tremendous impact on your child when they are involved: standing up for something they believe in builds character; volunteering teaches the value of teamwork; and seeing the results of their donated time and talents instills a sense of pride and accomplishment that they will remember throughout their lives.
Finding a “cause” is a very personal thing, and it may take your child years to discover what they are truly passionate about. But helping them get started down the road to social consciousness is not as hard as you might think.
- Volunteer with your child. There are countless opportunities for children to volunteer with their parents. Often the best lessons are taught by example, so taking even an hour or two a month to focus on helping others can make a big impact on your little one. Visit Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org) to find age-appropriate opportunities to help in your area.
- Encourage your child to get involved with clubs and activities at school. Starting in the primary grades, children have a chance to make a difference through fundraising, volunteering or simply learning about different social causes. Visit your child’s school website to see if afterschool activities are available. If none exist, consider working with the school principal or PTA to organize an event or club. At the secondary level, encourage your child to keep an open mind about the many opportunities available to them. Suggest that they participate in several different service clubs to see which one resonates with them the most.
- Talk to your child about current events. Look through a newspaper or magazine together and talk to your child about which stories make them want to get involved. While it’s OK to share your opinions and priorities during these conversations, resist the urge to try and steer your child toward a particular issue. Helping them to find their own cause will be much more rewarding for both you and your child. For help with current event conversation starters, visit one of the following websites: CNN Student News
- Help your child share their passion. Whether it’s saving the environment or collecting goods for those displaced by a natural disaster, once your child finds a cause to become involved with help them share their passion. Encourage them to write about their ideas and experiences, or perhaps even start a blog (www.blogger.com, www.wordpress.com) to share their thoughts with a wider audience. If your child is coordinating an event, help them advertise by hanging up signs in your neighborhood or creating a social media page about the event. Provide support where you can to make sure that your child has the tools necessary to begin making a difference.
- Start simply. Consider opportunities in your own neighborhood. Shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor or picking up trash along the roadside (with parental supervision, of course) are simple ways to start making a difference close to home.
In the words of the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Help your child stay active and involved and indeed, good things will come.
Amy McGeady has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since September 2002. Prior to that, she served in a similar role for a local child and family services agency. Amy is a graduate of Siena College and has volunteered throughout the years with organizations such as Junior Achievement, Alzheimer’s Association of Northeastern New York, Saratoga County Animal Shelter, and Care Links of Southern Saratoga County. She is an avid reader, painter, movie buff and concert-goer, and continues to seek out new opportunities to become involved with the world around her.