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As parents approach the dreaded teen years, it’s easy to worry about rebellion, bullying, drug abuse and other bad habits—but don’t forget about the positive side of your teen’s newfound independence. As our children take on more responsibility for themselves, they are at the perfect stage in life to explore their interests, combat adversity with advocacy, and show passionate dedication to a cause of their choice.
Take Leah. As the recipient of the Children’s Hospital Colorado Junior Volunteer of the Year award, she represents the potential good in all teens.
Here’s what she had to say about how she got involved in volunteering, and how your kids can too.
Spark your child’s interest at an early age
Leah: I became interested in volunteering after joining Special Olympics Basketball as a unified partner. I started volunteering when I was eight, and within a few years I began joining more Special Olympics sports as a volunteer. I liked that I was having a good time while at the same time helping others to enjoy themselves. For this reason I decided to pursue more volunteer jobs with different organizations.
Leah: I became interested in volunteering at Children’s Colorado because I had been a patient there as a kid, and still have appointments there occasionally. [I also] hope to work in a medical setting someday. I thought that volunteering at Children’s Colorado would allow me to experience the hospital setting without being a doctor or nurse, and it would also allow me to understand the point of view of the families and other non-clinical parts of working in healthcare.
Leah: I really like to see younger siblings come into the gift shop and pool all their money in order to buy a present for their sick brother or sister, it happens more often than you might think!
Leah: My experience at Children’s Colorado didn’t change my school or career plans, it cemented them. Spending time at Children’s Colorado and hearing stories of what patients and families have gone through has allowed me to understand how much more the hospital experience is than just the nurses and doctors. However, it has also shown me how life-changing, and often lifesaving, medical advancements can be. I want to focus my studies on Human Biology and become one of the doctors behind the life-changing, lifesaving discoveries.
Leah: To any teen that asks me about volunteering, I say the same thing - "if you’re going to volunteer for it, commit to it." Volunteering should be something you enjoy, you should never find yourself saying “Uggghhhh I really don’t want to go in to volunteer today, I’d rather just stay here and sleep”. If that’s you, you’re volunteering for the wrong thing! Pick something to volunteer for that you are passionate about, something you enjoy and make your first priority. And when you say you’re going in, go in and love it!
Leah: If your teen wants to volunteer, let them do it! It looks great on college applications, it takes up time so they won’t watch as much Netflix, and they’ll be helping people! Make sure they know that you stand behind them in their decision, but at the same time don’t make too big of a deal about it. Volunteering should be something that everyone does, all the time.
Leah: Be kind. People are going to be different, look different, act different, talk different, and you might not know how to interact with them. Just remember, to them, you’re the different one. They deserve all the respect from you that you deserve from them. Don’t exclude anyone because they don’t fit the mold, they might surprise you.
Leah: Let them be who they are. It’s hard to be a teenager and I imagine it’s harder to be the parent of the teenager. We constantly want to rewrite the rules for ourselves and go against probably everything you believe in. It’s hard, but let that be okay. As long as we aren’t hurting ourselves, hurting someone else, or doing something illegal, what’s the worst that could happen? I mean, the purple hair dye will fade eventually…..
If you or your teen is looking to volunteer now, Leah recommends partnering with Special Olympics Colorado, Children's Colorado, or an Adaptive Recreation program where you can play the sports you love while helping others.
Find more service opportunities and ideas here.
And don’t forget, your teen can always start their own charity or fundraiser—whatever feeds their passion and fuels the hero within.