Top 10 ways to build altruism in children

Suggested by SMS

“Altruism” is the unselfish concern for others, performing acts to benefit others, sacrificing self-interest and not expecting anything in return. Altruistic qualities are important and not cultivated in our society. The world we live in now doesn’t exactly portray rampant altruism. Does your child have awareness for the need to put their interest aside to help another – just because it the right thing to do, not for the intent of gaining credit or recognition for it? Much of our parenting techniques aren’t balanced; we give, the kids take. The message teens hear is clearly, “You are the only one that matters”. Unfortunately, an attitude of disrespect and disregard for others develops.

Our children have access to more privileges, opportunities and technology than any generation before them. Many also have a lack of responsibility and hardships. Older people will tell you these things made them more gracious people. Most parents are so busy rushing to fulfill their teens wants and desires – they don’t stop to think about what kind of values this is building in their teen. I don’t think anyone plans on their children growing into selfish teenagers. Is your teen reflecting the character you had hoped for? To be altruistic, or not, is a trait that comes from within. It hinges on “what we are made of”. And what we are made of has everything to do with how we have been conditioned to think, to act, and to view others and ourselves. For many teens, thinking about themselves is an all-consuming activity. Many teens are discontent the majority of the time, but don’t know why. They have it all and want it all, from cell phones to name brand clothes; and become sulky without immediate gratification. Most seem unconcerned for how their actions affect others. Basic politeness and deference to others, like stepping aside to let an older person go by in a store, is not thought necessary. Their priorities and concerns seem to point only to themselves. Does your teen seem self-centered and become sullen when they don’t receive instant gratification? Has your child’s environment produced a self-centered teenager? Does your teen have the attitude that everything revolves around them? Is your teen never fully satisfied because what they have is never enough? This is not breeding altruistic qualities most of us desire in our children. You CAN take initiative to present opportunities to build these qualities in your teen.

Perhaps with some well-directed activities, self-interest can be expanded to include generosity to others. Exposing our teens to a personal view of the lives of others can open a different world for your teen. These altruism builders are meant to bring your teen out of the self-centered mode they are accustomed to, that we have inadvertently created. Gaining more respect for others and being aware of needs outside of their own can change a selfish attitude and positively affect their goals in life. Teenagers certainly may not see the value in doing something for others that is not reciprocated –when they could be at the texting friends! Parents should decide if the end goal of attaining more altruistic traits in their teen is worth the effort it takes to initiate these activities.

10. Help a needy neighbor

Encourage your teen to take an interest in your neighbors. Seek a neighbor or two that is in a situation that may cause them to need a helping hand. Encourage your teen to introduce themselves, offering their help with things that need to be done. Simple such as raking the yard, walking the dog, grocery shopping, or helping with minor repair work, would be kind. These are actions directed towards someone else’s needs and a sacrifice of time. The cell phone should be off to cultivate respect for others.

9. Container gardening for gift giving

Container gardening is a great way for teens to have responsibility for something other than themselves. This is especially good for teens 13-14 years of age to give to neighbors. They may be listening to their ipod as the water their plants, but they will be sacrificing some Internet time to do so! Being able to give something that was grown by them and not purchased is good lesson. Even if they don’t see a container tomato garden as “cool”, they will be proud of what it produces. When they give what they have grown, it’s a piece of their time and effort they are giving away.

8. Work with local disabled children and adults

Disabled children and adults have challenges that your teen may have never personally witnessed. Handicapped individuals have concerns far different than the average teen. Spending time helping with various tasks once a month will give the opportunity to see first hand how different life is for these strong willed, determined people. A respect for the daily challenges they overcome should develop in your teen. When they are part of something bigger than they are, such as helping an autistic child increase their abilities or a handicapped adult reach a goal, it will strengthen your teen’s character.

7. Garage sale to donate proceeds

Your teen can give a garage sale or yard sale at your home or church. Proceeds can be donated to a shelter, charity or family with needs. Let them choose what matters to them the most. Your teen will be recycling unused items and practicing charity at the same time. They are cleaning out, organizing, sacrificing time and activities to focus on a project they are not going to benefit from financially. This will expose teens to planning, organizing a project themselves, handling money, advertising, keeping up with inventory, considering the value of each item and pricing accordingly.

6. Volunteer at a hospital

Many hospitals have a teen volunteer program. Teens can commit to volunteering a number of hours each month. They can assist with visitors, entertaining children in waiting rooms, patient care and add a human element to a patient’s hospital stay. These experiences can open your teen’s eyes and hearts to situations of others that he or she has had no reason to contemplate until now. It expands your teen’s personal support network, connecting and bonding with people they would never have met. For areas that do not have provide a teen program, schedule trips to a children’s ward or cancer center on a regular basis.

5. Childcare/babysitting duties

Childcare duties teach your teen about caring for others and being responsible for their welfare. This idea does include your teen likely getting paid, but the benefits still contribute to gaining desired altruistic qualities. Your teen will have to discover patience, problem solving, and diplomatic discipline, with full focus on a younger child. Your teen’s interests will be on the backburner while they entertain and fulfill the needs of the child they are caring for. The Red Cross offers a daylong Babysitter Training Course with a certificate of completion.

4. Adopt an elderly person

There are many elderly people in our society that are lonely and isolated. Some have no one left that cares; others have family that live elsewhere, living their own lives. Kind acts like bringing baked goods, folding laundry, taking them to the store, etc. would be a bright spot in their week. Your teen can be someone they look forward to seeing, sharing stories and life lessons. Just taking time to making them feel valued and cared for, without expecting anything in return, would be a great service. Many of the elderly have fought for our country, contributed to their community and cared for others. They have much to share with our youth.

3. Volunteer to be an after school tutor

Student tutors are needed for high school through elementary. Your school may already have a student-tutoring program. If not, your teen can talk to a counselor or teacher about starting one. If your teen doesn’t feel they do well enough in a subject to tutor, they can help students from other countries to simply learn to speak English. They can also help teachers by making copies, organizing library books and decorating for the holidays, etc. This may create an interest in education for your child’s future. Your teen may actually talk to you about their day when they come home from school.

2. Community outreach and mission projects

There are many types of outreach and mission projects your teen can be a part of. Opportunities are there to help take care of others less fortunate, such as home repairs, reading programs, and food drives. Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army are two places to start. Talk to local community groups and churches about what types of programs are in need of volunteers. Your teen will meet people that are also putting their interest aside to help others, and that can be a positive influence on your teen.

1. Lead by example

You sacrifice daily for your family. Let them see you sacrificing unselfishly for others as well, being generous, caring and giving in your altruistic efforts. As your teen is preparing to make their weekly visit to help elderly Mrs. Smith down the street, you mention you are making a casserole to help out a bereaved family or sick friend. Let younger children help with the cooking, explaining to them the importance of helping others. Begin early teaching them to have a giving heart. There are times that you may want to volunteer with your teenager for a community project to help the needy. Even a simple gesture, like inviting someone that is lonely with no family close by to share Thanksgiving dinner with your family, is worthwhile. A great environment for building altruism is when the whole family is involved in these efforts.