The adolescent years can be a time of self-expression and exploring independence. They can also be a phase of self-centered behavior as teens learn how their behavior affects the world around them. Teaching your teen how to be empathetic and learn to consider the needs of others over their own is an important skill they need to learn, but may be easier said than done. Adolescents struggling with behavioral issues are often even more egocentric than their peers and may be difficult to reach, but research has shown a strong connection between performing service for others and a lessening of stress and depression. Giving your teen consistent opportunities to help others could play a large part in helping them heal and develop the ability to empathize with others. However, the question is how do you encourage your teen to participate in service in a way that will be helpful?
Even if it feels as though everything you say to your teen falls on deaf ears, they are still watching and noting the ways that you choose to act. If you make giving and selflessness a part of your daily life, it sends a valuable message to your child about the way life should be lived. At the very least, you will show him that you are not asking anything of him that you are not willing to do yourself.
While serving others can feel like a chore at first, even troubled teens are not immune to the good feelings that come from helping others. Start small and make a point of looking for the everyday opportunities around you. For instance, your elderly neighbor might appreciate someone shoveling her snowy driveway, or take an empty garbage bag to your local park and pick up trash for twenty minutes. Even something simple like letting the tired young mom with several active children ahead of you in the grocery store line will make an impact. Make larger acts of service a family affair and let your teen weigh in on potential projects. Not only will regular implementation of service help your teen create good habits, but it may also encourage him to consider the world around him as something he can contribute to in both large and small ways.
Being overly enthusiastic about every act of service is likely to backfire, since praise isn’t the point of the activity, but you still want to note when he has done something selfless. Whether it is a big or a small act that is done for you or someone else, make sure you reflect the positive gratitude that will help remind him that he is on the right path. When possible, encourage him to make his acts of service as personal as possible. For instance, arrange for your animal lover to volunteer at the local shelter, or get your environmentally conscious teen to collect neighborhood litter clean up or recycling drive.
For more information on how to help your troubled teen, visit us at Help Your Teen Now