How to Help Teens Change the World Now

by | Jul 6, 2020

As a kid, summertime meant more time to read the stack of books I brought home from the library each week, swimming with my grandmother early in the morning, horseback riding and westerns at the drive-in movies. My parents didn’t seem to work all that hard to keep me occupied.

They were likely working harder than I realized. Today’s parents are working even harder and experiencing higher levels of stress.

After an unexpected springtime of home-schooled kids, less resources for outings, and fewer places for kids to be safely educated and entertained, this summer is harder. How can they make time to plant the early seeds of giving?

Usually, this time of year, I remind families that the summer is a great time to introduce giving to children. I would suggest getting the kids to help you clean out closets, especially their own, and then tag along to donate items to local nonprofit resale stores. I encourage letting kids help hand deliver checks to favorite charities.

Since this year is so different, let’s explore a different idea. Engage the kids in real giving decisions.

How One Family Engaged Teens

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a family intent on planting giving seeds with two teenagers – a junior in high school and one about to become a high school freshman.  Both kids were aware of their parents giving to various organizations – church, nonprofit fundraising events, and even business giving. But mom and dad were unsure how to start a giving conversation.

The question was, what causes were of interest, and how would they choose? To encourage the conversation, mom and dad set aside a small amount of funding for them to contribute.

The Teen Challenge

That’s when I joined the conversation. I  met with the kids and asked, “if you could make the world a better place, what would you do?” One said no one would be homeless. When the family traveled, she would see them on the streets and worry about where they were eating. The other was concerned about abused kids and what happens to families when there is a flood or a hurricane.

With clear areas of interest, I asked them to dive into the internet. I challenged each to identify a list of local resources that served the homeless and abused children.

Born into the digital age, they dug into the challenge. Several weeks later, I sat with the two teenagers to hear what they had learned and what they would give to today to help change the world.

The Teen Solution

After their research, they put CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and St. Paul Children’s Services at the top of their list. We arranged a conversation with mom and dad to share their decision. The donations were delivered to each organization. Mom and dad made plans to continue the conversation and encourage the kids to identify organizations for the next year.

Make Giving a Summertime Experience

You can do the same exercise with your children or grandchildren. Children who are at least 12 years and older can be quite successful at the research and heart-felt recommendation of where to give. As a family, you don’t need to have vast sums of money to give. Start at a giving level that’s right for your family. If $100 is the best number, divide it between two or three children and challenge them to come up with one organization each. That’s $35 to $50 for each organization. I guarantee the receiving organization will appreciate the gift.

If your children are elementary school-aged, you can still ask the “make the world a better place” question. Once you know their answer, suggest organizations working in that area. Look the organization up on the internet together. Let them see you write the check or make the online donation while they’re hanging on your shoulders. 

A Challenge: Try it, then Repeat

Parents and grandparents use this summer to share the giving experience. It doesn’t require a lot of explaining. It doesn’t require a lot of money. It does require repetition. Do it several times a year or at least every year.  Plant giving seeds now so the next generation can grow into their own brand of philanthropy.

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