The Christmas season is here — with sparkling lights, glittering trees, and magical store displays. But as we look beyond the external, the research on adolescent development tells us something very important about what happens in teen’s internal worlds. It’s a season that shapes their lifelong identities about giving. What are you doing this year to help children and teens internalize the gift of giving?
Of course, many teens associate Christmas with being receivers of gifts. But according to studies in human development, it is the giving of gifts that reaps the biggest psychological rewards. Parents can help teens realize these rewards by teaching them how to give back during the Christmas season and throughout the year. There are many ways to give back, including through the excellent projects listed below.
To mark the season of giving, from November 29 through December 13, each time a teen makes a pledge to volunteer through GenerationOn, its partners at Hasbro will donate a toy to a child in need. As part of their Holiday Gift Campaign, GenerationOn encourages youths, parents, teachers and nonprofit organizations to explore its many online resources, including holiday service projects that help teens turn pledges into projects. Also through pledging, children become engaged in a youth community that brings the gift of giving into young people’s lives throughout the year. What better time than Christmas to get your teens to take a volunteer pledge!
The Family-to-Family project helps American families “share their bounty” with others who are impoverished. They will link your family with a family struggling to put food on the table. Once a month, they will ask you to either shop, pack and send a box of groceries to them, or make a donation that allows them to do it for you. The best way is to get teens involved in the shopping, in the process of giving! Encourage your child to reflect on what others would want and how he or she can empathize with families different from their own.
The nonprofit organization AnySoldier.com invites you and your teen to help make Christmas special for American soldiers stationed in harm’s way. You can choose to support any of the Armed Services, decide what you want to send, and get your teens involved in making cards and selecting gifts. Plan ahead so a soldier in Iraq, Afghanistan, or another place of global conflict can receive your family’s heartfelt gratitude for the job they do.
The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people committed to ending homelessness. They work to meet the immediate needs of people who are homeless by providing education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing. Check their directories of national and local organizations where your family can help this Christmas or throughout the year.
Right now, the programs that put food on the table for America’s vulnerable children, seniors, and working families are in jeopardy. Your help is desperately needed to fill food banks and pantries throughout the country. Feeding America, a nonprofit network of member food banks, can help your family find convenient ways to give.
What values does your family hold about giving? Christmas is a perfect time to talk about your values and make a plan to put them into action now and in the coming year. We are often so busy during Christmas that it is easy to go through the motions of gift-gifting without connecting to the deeper meaning of giving. Yet it is these deep connections that shapes teen’s identities and teach them the gift of giving.
John 3:16 is a power lesson on giving. It teaches compassion and empathy. It is a great lesson to incorporate in your family tradition and as your teen begins to act independently will help him or her become passionate about giving. Studies show that what youth learn about giving during childhood and adolescence lasts a lifetime. Your giving will impact future generations. Merry Christmas! Joyful Giving!