Here’s a question most parents of teens ask at least daily: How do I get my teen off their screen? The answer isn’t as elusive as you may think: it’s civic engagement. The far-reaching benefits of getting your kids pumped about getting involved in their community provide momentous lessons for them (and you)––that last a lifetime.
The benefits to kids of civic engagement (this is just the tip of the benefit iceberg):
- Their mental health stays strong.
According to the International Youth Foundation, researchers have linked civic engagement for kids (and adults’, too) to a BIG health benefit: fewer symptoms of depression. And a study in the journal Child Development says events like volunteering and voting can even lower substance abuse and risky health-related behaviors.
What you can do: It all starts with one simple question: What matters to your child?
- They’ll feel––and be––empowered.
Whether it’s canvassing for neighborhood for signatures, advocating for animal rights, or electing a class president, civic engagement helps a child develop focus, self-awareness, and confidence. Committed to a cause they really care about can teach a young person valuable skills like time management, collaboration, and even fundraising. According to a survey by The Center For Teen Empowerment, 94% of youth said engaging in civic events increased their leadership skills and self respect.
What you can do: Let your kid pick their passion: volunteermatch.org is one of the largest searchable networks connecting volunteers and their kids with worthy non-profits, from helping animals to helping veterans.
- They’ll find empathy for others.
It’s easy for children to take things for granted with a roof over their head, electricity, and an allowance. But do they know some kids don’t even have these? Community involvement can remind your child of this, expose them to working with diverse cultures, and help them see the value in kindness.
What you can do: Encourage donations, delivered by you and your child together. Whether it’s clothes, food, books, or time (volunteering), giving in person to a school, soup kitchen, or your church can provide meaningful connections for kids.
- They’ll build their community.
Advocacy may already be a part of some young people’s lives. When devastating issues like gun violence or mental illness reaches school or home, advocacy gives youth a voice they may not have had before. Advocacy can show young people how local, regional, or national political processes work. The good news? When adolescents see change come about from their goal-oriented mission, they’ll carry those skills into adulthood.
What you can do: If possible, bring your kids along when it’s time to vote to illustrate the political process in action. And speaking of action, kids can learn a lot about building communities with iCivics online games (founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor). It gamifies civic engagement with topics like running political debates, how counties work, and the responsibility launcher.
- They’ll be investing in their future.
Automatically. Studies have shown that civic engagement by young people is positively associated with future gains in income and education. The life skills your child earns from civic engagement can make them stronger adults. JFK famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Maybe replacing country with community could inspire young people to answer the civic engagement call. Not a bad way to raise a kid, huh?