No generation, it seems, has been as enthusiastic about hands-on service than the present young one. Yet it often seems that, with all the time our kids spend in front of screens, getting them face-to-face with others, serving them, feels more like pulling a throw rug from your vacuum cleaner than a great adventure.
Do teens and tweens even want to volunteer with their parents? Can they get out of their own little world long enough to deeply care about those in need? Yes. And Double Yes. But there are definitely ways to start right.
Discover Their Passions
If your daughter doesn’t seem interested in serving tacos at the homeless shelter, maybe it isn’t lack of compassion but lack of connection. Sure, Christians should be willing to serve anyone, but in fact, God gives us all things that light a fire inside. Starting there is the easiest way to give your child a spirit of selflessness. Does she show concern over shelter animals, or abused kids? Does her heart hurt over women who can’t find clean water or girls who want an education but are not allowed?
Engage her in talking about what news or issues bother her. Listen. Look for opportunities to serve others in an area that already has her heart.
Your tween or teen is more than capable of researching volunteer possibilities on her own. Give her rein to come to you with suggestions she’s found or ideas she’s come up with. Suggest she do the phone calling, emailing, and scheduling. Let her own the process. Choose what the family does together and give her the credit for doing the work.
Consider Her Temperament
The thought of making small talk with strangers at a nursing home will terrify an introverted daughter. But she might thrive in a one-on-one with a lonely child. Similarly, your exuberant child could happily volunteer at a special Olympics field day. Think about it—is she intellectually gifted, socially bent, musically inclined? Also, consider her attention span. Seek out options that she will find natural and non intimidating. Sure, there is a place for stretching and doing scary things. But later, not at first.
Model a Lifestyle
Let your daughter see that helping others isn’t something you schedule but something you live. If another’s need interrupts your plans, show her how a Christian cares for someone even if it means adjusting schedules or finances. My grown daughter explained the difference to me recently. “If there was a need, we just saw you do it. Not like “something church people must do” but as something natural, a part of daily life.”
Be a Family on Mission
Don’t get sucked into the mindset that children wait to serve others until they’re older, teens go off and volunteer with youth group, and parents do their own thing. Kids can minister at any age, and they need and want to do it with their family, not separate. Find a cause that you can all get exited about and pursue that mission together. Make it part of your family DNA.
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