How to Teach Your Teenager about Generosity

Kathy Shreve of Carmel wanted to connect her kids to other children in different countries.

With the help of Unbound, an international nonprofit faith organization that helps connect families with other families in need, her family could communicate with other families through letter writing.

My kids have learned about each other’s differences, but they’ve also found similarities,” Shreve says. “It gives them perspective on how fortunate we are, and how giving a little can make a big difference to someone else.”

What can parents do to teach their teens how to be generous in an age that doesn’t always value generosity? Here are a few ways. 

Teach empathy. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Not all children are adept at empathy — they must be taught first.

Zionsville‘s mom Teresa Fruits started taking her children on mission trips at an early age. These trips helped teach her kids that no one is entitled, Fruits says. Now that her children are in high school and college, they continue these trips on their own. 

Be a good role model. 

A recent study found that parent role-modeling and conversations about giving were strongly related to an adolescent’s giving and volunteering habits. How? Through role modeling and conversations which, ultimately, socializes adolescents to charitable giving and volunteering.

“Parents can demonstrate generosity by helping family, helping neighbors, giving to charitable organizations and volunteering through an organization,” says Dr. Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The key to transmitting generosity, Ottoni-Wilhelm says, is to make sure that kids know that their parents are doing those things. So, to be good role models, parents who volunteer or give to charities should share their experiences with their kids. 

Have a conversation about generosity.

When kids act charitably, parents should point it out with praise, saying something like, “That was very generous of you.”

Betsy Morse, a five-year volunteer with the MidNorth Food Pantry in Indianapolis, says that her kids know that she and her husband have been active volunteers for years. “My kids have seen both of their parents in two different areas do volunteer work, so I do think that it will make them more aware and that they will volunteer more frequently, she says. Recently, her daughter informed her that she had adopted a grandparent as a volunteer activity.  

Teach generosity early. 

Like with teaching children most things, the earlier a parent starts, the more a child understands and practices these deeds throughout their life.

Stephanie Seymour, a year-round volunteer for Operation Christmas Child, has encouraged her children from an early age to be generous.

We have been packing shoeboxes for years, says Seymour, who has seven children. “Now, all but one of mine are grown, and I have just one teen left. They pack their shoebox gifts but still come home for my family packing party.”

The fact is: The world needs generous people. Without charitable giving and volunteering, a lot of people would go without help, and a great many causes would go untended.

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