Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Any old teen can do it...
Every now and then a study comes out about teenagers and if they are really contributing to American society. Of course, if they are volunteering for those in need, they have to be helping somehow. But does volunteering really make an impact on a teenager, or does is it simply something to add to the college application? One such research study done by Hayal Kacker, Jennifer A. Schmidt, and Lee Shumow (psychologists) investigated the effects of volunteering, be it babysitting or working at a homeless shelter, on teenagers and whether or not it makes the teen civically conscious in the long run. The article was called “Adolescents’ Participation in Service Activities and Its Impact on Academic, Behavioral, and Civic Outcomes.” Which is a long name for saying that volunteering does have an effect on teens. The general hypothesis was that volunteering both betters the life of the individual devoting time and the lives of those helped.
For students that go to a school that requires so many service hours, research was harder to gather. There were some students there who were predisposed to help the hungry and clothe the needy, but then there were students who would rather sit at home and play on their XBOX 360. For those who would have been at the soup kitchen every Saturday morning anyway, there was no evident gain in their sense of civic responsibility and some even were less involved as they got older. As for some of the couch potatoes, they became so civically conscious that they were much likely to vote and take part in civic issues as they matured. It appeared in a related study that older people got more out of volunteering than teens, but if they don’t start volunteering now who’s to say that they will later on in life? Some public and private schools argue that required service hours teach the students how to interact with others while giving them a sense of community responsibility, yet for the most part, the future civic leaders varied on what type of volunteer work they did as well as how long they were involved.
The type of teenager most likely to do volunteer work varies as well. Not only are the effects variant, the volunteers themselves are different. Young women are more likely to volunteer than young men and it does not hurt if the girl’s parents are educated. Some case studies that were listed showed that educated parents have a large influence on how frequent a teenager volunteers. The idea is that the more education a person has, the more socially conscious they are and the likelihood that they will pass on these traits to their children increases as the level of education increases. Although over 50% of high school students reported doing some sort of volunteer work, the sex ratio is extremely important. In a group of students that were studied, 62% of the girls did volunteer work and only 49% of the boys did any. Not only is gender and education a factor, but the age of the student is also a determinant in how often and how long a student participates in volunteer work. Over 60% of the surveyed high school seniors said they did some sort of volunteer work whereas the freshman had half doing community service and half not doing anything. The students that did the volunteer work out of their own will were typically upper class white teenagers whereas those who were forced to do it were those individuals of ethnic backgrounds. Whether the volunteer work was required or whether it was completely voluntary, the types of activities did not change. Most students find volunteer work around their community through family friends, religious affiliations, or through the school if they are required to do so. Although the range of student volunteers was large, the effects on the students themselves were larger.
A vast majority of students were not required to do community service and yet, they still engaged in it. From a policymaker standpoint, that is phenomenal. With a rapidly growing population, it is important to raise children that will productively contribute to society even after they get into college. The students who participate in volunteer work are likely to have higher grades, less behavior problems, and a greater sense of what they can accomplish in the world since they can see the differences they affect on their community when they help out. Findings from this study showed that any bit of service was better than none. So if a person only has time to walk their neighbor’s dog once a week for free or if they have every single Saturday to devote at the animal shelter without pay, the effects seem to be the same. Students that interact with their community make the community better and if they do it out of their free will, all the better.
It seems that every little bit counts, especially when it helps the people that need it most. Teenagers have a bad rap for not contributing to anything, but as this study has shown, it is just not true. Teens get many benefits from volunteering and everyone benefits from a few extra helping hands; so let’s spread the love and plant some trees and help some old ladies.
Kacker, Hayal, Jennifer A. Schmidt, and Lee Shumow. “Adolescents’ Participation in
Service Activities and Its Impact on Academic, Behavioral, and Civic Outcomes.”
Youth Adolescence 36(2007): 127-140.