5 Ways Your Teen Can Make a Difference

Our goal as parents is to raise our children to become healthy, happy and productive members of society. But how can we reach that goal when many kids today are disconnected from the outside world and spend their time watching TV, surfing the internet and texting friends?

How can parents get kids involved in making a difference? The key is to start them young! From an early age, teach your children to lead a healthy lifestyle, take care of the environment and give back to the community.

According to the Texas School Safety Center, teens who are involved in their community typically have better developmental outcomes than those who are not engaged—they build leadership skills and develop better problem-solving and decision-making skills, too. Adolescents can participate in a wide variety of activities that can make a difference. Read on for our top choices!

1. 4-H

4‑H programs are grounded in the belief that kids learn best by doing. Kids complete hands-on projects in areas like science, health, agriculture and citizenship, in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on leadership roles. Kids can concentrate on one focus area or they can try a variety of programs throughout their 4‑H experience. Regardless of the project area, all 4‑H programs include mentoring and career readiness as core elements. 4‑H programs are available in every county in the U.S.

2. Volunteer at a Food Bank

Volunteering at a local food bank or shelter teaches teens to learn about hunger issues in their community. Take up a collection of nonperishable food items at your school or church and deliver them to the food bank, help to pack boxes or, better yet, help deliver food to a needy family. Check if your local food bank has a garden program. Many times you can donate extra vegetables from your own garden to the food bank or help maintain a community vegetable garden. Connecting to the food from seed to table is a great way to be connected to the environment.

3. NCF-Envirothon

NCF-Envirothon encourages high school students to become interested in natural resource conservation and environmental issues and careers. The Envirothon promotes stewardship of natural resources and encourages the development of the critical thinking, cooperative problem-solving, and decision-making skills required to achieve and maintain a natural balance between the quality of life and the quality of the environment.

4. Youth Service America

Youth Service America’s mission is to help young people find their voice, take action and make an impact on vital community issues. Issues that YSA addresses include poverty and hunger, the environment, health, education, human rights and community building. YSA sponsors Global Youth Service Day in April and there are projects worldwide that teens can join in and help to make a difference.

5. Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots

Founded in 1991 by Dr. Jane GoodallJane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is a youth service program for young people of all ages. The mission is to foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs and to inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals and the environment. Roots & Shoots empowers young people to become the type of leaders who will make right choices to build a better world. Through the program, youth lead local change through service while developing skills and traits of compassionate leaders.

Bonus Tip: Do your own thing

Some teens don’t want to join a formal group, but can still make a difference. If your teen has a special skill (singing, dancing, art), visit a retirement home and put on a show. Organize a neighborhood trash clean-up, pull weeds from a community garden, rake leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor who is unable. Participate in a local 5K race that benefits a charity, coach a sport that you love for a peewee team or volunteer at a local animal shelter. Ways to help are only limited by your teen’s imagination!

In what ways has your teen helped in the community? Share your ideas in the comments!

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