The Value of Service With Teens


If there is one thing I would love every family to make time for it would be the act of doing some form of community service together.  This is especially true if your children have reached adolescence.  Developmentally, teenagers are at a stage where they naturally focus on themselves.  They are discovering who they are in the world and how to be independent.  As a young person begins to see himself as his own person, he must focus on himself to a degree as he figures this out.  This is a normal and necessary stage that teenagers go through to enter the world as an adult.


Yet, it can be a little much.  Discovering one’s own self can easily slip into believing that I am the only one that matters.  The antidote to this selfishness is the ability to have what philosopher Martin Buber referred to as the “I/Thou” encounter.  This is moment when I can meet another human being without the shields, masks, and resistances that we so often use in our daily lives.  In an “I/Thou” encounter with another, we experience our shared humanity.  Service experiences are the times in life when this type of encounter can happen.  Teenagers need these moments to help them stay grounded in who they really are, rather than what their peers and culture expect of them.

This is why it can be so valuable to have these experiences with your teenager; it’s a chance to see you in a role other than the parent.  They get to see you as a human being connecting with someone in need.  Watching you perform service with them can be the very thing that allows them feel more connected to you, which is the critical task of raising an adolescent.

Of course, your child will not jump with enthusiasm when you propose a family outing to give back.   Don’t let their lack of enthusiasm dissuade you!  As with most things “teenager”, the parental suggestions they resist they actually know deep down might be something positive.  They won’t tell you they think it could be a good idea, but most likely they are open to the experience.  Lead the way.  Try to include them in the process of deciding what service experience you as a family will do, such as giving them options.  Be excited about it.  Include something “fun” with it.   Most of all enjoy the rare opportunity to spend time with your teen that isn’t all about you being the parent!