November 26, 2008 —

This past August, I asked you to challenge your kids to beat the lazy days of summer. As our families settle into the routines of school, sports, and after-school-activities this season, I have a new challenge: Volunteer.

Teens who are busy and involved in activities avoid boredom and are less likely to turn to cough medicine or other substance abuse. When it comes to volunteering, teens have the added benefit of learning possible future job skills and a sense of responsibility. They will learn the importance of giving back to the community and the understanding that one person can make a difference.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 60.8 million volunteers dedicated over eight billion hours of service to community organizations in 2007, and over the past decade, volunteer rates among students have hit record highs. If your child is not involved in other after-school activities, volunteering can be a mutually beneficial use of time.

Volunteering also can give your family something to talk about. You can discuss the different types of community service to see what your kids might be interested in. Often, volunteering can be tied to interests your child already has, such as building or animal care. Habitat for Humanity has locations around the country, and many local animal shelters offer programs for teens to assist in the training and care of dogs waiting to be adopted. Your kids will look forward to volunteering if it is related to something in which they are interested.

Parents of older teens can usually look to their schools for great volunteer opportunities: Many middle schools and high schools offer students the opportunity to join honor societies, scouts, and Key Clubs that focus on community action. Students can join these clubs with their friends, which may make the idea of community service even more attractive, or they can use the clubs as a way to make new friends.

Parents of younger teens may want to look into volunteering as a family. Oftentimes, soup kitchens or local churches will give families the opportunity to participate together; another option is charity and volunteer match web sites such as Volunteer Match or 1-800-Volunteer. Kid's Health offers a guide to families looking to get involved, too. By volunteering together, you as a parent can set a positive example for your child through both action and words. The time you spend giving back will give you a chance to talk to your kids about community service, school, and other serious topics like substance abuse. In this way, volunteering not only helps out the community, but it can strengthen the ties within your family.

Encourage your teen to volunteer or go out as a family to help your community. No matter what you do, it is a great way to get involved in a positive way.