As a teen, how can you protect yourself from bullying? Start by widening your circle of friends and acquaintances and getting involved with activities that support and strengthen your self-esteem and self-respect. Volunteering can accomplish both goals.
You feel good about yourself when you’re doing something good for others. Volunteers (and all people with strong self-esteem) are more immune to teasing and bullying, less likely to bully, and less likely to stand by and watch others being bullied. These volunteers have strength AND heart – empathy and respect for others.
There are huge upsides for teens who volunteer. Sociologist Jane Allyn Piliavin, quoted in US News & World Report, says:
- Teens who volunteer are healthier. Teen volunteers use drugs and alcohol much less and have far fewer pregnancies
- Teens who volunteer have better grades and lower dropout rates
- Teens who volunteer feel good about themselves. They have higher self-esteem, a sense of social connection and belonging, again making them more resistant to bullying
The positive effects spin off well into adulthood. Volunteers live longer and feel happier than non-volunteers. Francesca Borgonovi of the London School of Economics believes volunteers are happier because they’re less focused on what other people have and more attentive to what other people need and what they themselves can give. It’s a helpful grounding tool for teens, who feel everything intensely, and sometimes lose perspective on how great life is, despite the inevitable challenges. No matter how down you might feel, there’s always someone who’s having a tougher time and needs a helping hand.
If you’re keen to volunteer, here are some tips:
- Do something you really want to do. Pick activities that showcase your interests and talents or give you a chance to learn something new while helping others. You’ll be more motivated and stick with it.
- Check out the group before you commit. Volunteer 3 days as a trial run. Make sure you enjoy working with the other volunteers and the supervisors. It’s great to be appreciated
- Don’t overextend yourself. About 100 hours a year (about 2 hours a week or 8 hours a month) is the optimal amount of time to commit. Make sure the rest of your life stays in balance!
- Choose a volunteer activity that matches your personality. If you like working with people (or would like to get better at it), then sign up for an activity that puts you front and center with the public. If you enjoy research, behind-the-scenes activities, or working with your hands look for a volunteer op that fits your description. Spend some time thinking about which activities would inspire you or fit you best before you start looking.
- Get your family involved. There are a lot of great volunteer opportunities like environmental clean-up days and food banks where your whole family can share in the experience and build relationships, not just with others, but within your own family
- Join us! Our Girls’ Respect Groups Program is all about caring and compassionate high school girls volunteering their time to help younger girls negotiate the tough middle-school years. All you need is a willingness to share your time and your experience with girls who are eager to learn from you.
When you volunteer, you become part of a huge community! According to VolunteeringInAmerica.gov, in the US alone, 14 million millenials (mostly teens) volunteered in 2012, contributing 1.4 billion hours to their communities (worth about $20 billion to the American economy!). Wow!
You’ll give of yourself, but you’ll also give to yourself – a sense of belonging, self-esteem and the confidence to change the world, one hour at a time.
L Blumen, Bullying Epidemic: Not Just Child’s Play, Camberley Press, 2011
L Blumen, N Evans, and A Rucchetto, Girls’ Respect Groups: An Innovative Program to Empower Young Women & Build Self-Esteem!, Camberley Press, 2009
F Borgonovi, “Doing Well By Doing Good: The Relationship between Formal Volunteering and Self-Reported Health and Happiness,” Social Science & Medicine, June 2008, p 2321-2334
B Schiller, Volunteering Makes You Happier, Fastcoexist.com, Sept 3, 2013
Volunteering and Civic Engagement in Millenials 2012, VolunteeringInAmerica.gov