Community activities, volunteering and civic responsibility
Community activity is part of ‘civic responsibility’. It’s about doing things because we want to give back to our communities or help others.
Your child can learn about civic responsibility and be active in your community by:
- joining a Surf Life Saving Club, a scouting group or a local environmental or clean-up group
- helping with a primary school play, or coordinating or coaching junior sport
- setting up an arts space for the community or getting involved in youth radio
- being part of a youth advisory group through the local council
- promoting causes – for example, environmental issues, refugee rights, bushfire recovery and charities.
Your child might be interested in online civic or community activities – for example, an online campaign to save local parkland. Online community involvement can motivate teenagers to get involved in face-to-face community activities.
Benefits of being involved in community activities and volunteering
It doesn’t matter what teenagers do for their communities. Any involvement is good! When teenagers get involved in community activities and volunteering, they get many personal rewards and feelings of achievement.
By getting involved with community activities, teenagers can come into contact with like-minded peers and positive adult role models other than their parents. Interacting and cooperating with other adults and peers in community organisations encourages teenagers to see the world in different ways. It also helps them see how to put values or beliefs into action for the good of others.
Identity and connection
Young people are busy working out who they are and where they fit in the world. Being involved in community activities can give your child a:
- a positive way of understanding who they are
- a sense of belonging in their local community
- an opportunity to make new friendships and connections.
Community activities give teenagers the chance to apply the skills they already have. For example, your child could use the cooking skills they’ve learned at home at a community sausage sizzle or at a soup kitchen.
Volunteer work and community activities are also great opportunities to show initiative and develop workplace skills. For example, the sausage sizzle could give your child experience in speaking to customers and handling cash. Volunteering for Meals on Wheels might help your child prepare for part-time work as a waiter. And helping out at an animal shelter is a good way to learn how to groom or care for animals.
Being able to manage free time while balancing leisure, work and study is an important life skill. Being part of community activities could motivate your child to get more organised and start to manage their own time.
Self-confidence, mental health and wellbeing
Community activities can boost teenagers’ self-confidence and self-esteem. Your child can learn to deal with challenges, communicate with different people and build up their life skills in a supportive environment.
It’s also a great foundation for mental health and wellbeing.
Young people often feel good about being involved in something where others expect them to turn up, where they feel helpful and valued, and where they’re supported to achieve something as part of a group. These positive feelings can help protect young people from sadness and depression.
Being involved in positive community activity can also reduce the likelihood of substance abuse, mental illness and criminal activity.
“When I was 10, I was taken along to deliver Meals on Wheels to some elderly locals. I was unimpressed, and skulked in the doorways. But at the third house I met a wonderful tiara-wearing octogenarian. She told me about her time as a performer at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. Somehow she had me taking out her kitchen bin and heating her lunch as she lectured me on making sure I could always support myself independently as a woman. I walked out on cloud nine!”
Encouraging involvement in community activities and volunteering
There are many ways for your child to be involved from early on.
Your child might get involved naturally in some of the things you do – helping out at preschool or school working bees, coaching a junior sport team, helping out at community events, spending weekends at local festivals, or swapping favours with other local families.
Your child is also more likely to get involved if their friends are. So you could suggest that your child takes part in an activity with a friend who’s already involved.
Take your child’s personality into account
Is your child a quiet, slow-to-warm-up character, who might like to observe the first few times? Perhaps bringing a close friend along to a ‘clean up the park day’ would be a good start. Or does your child love leading and being in the limelight? Then mentoring a group of primary school children doing a school performance might appeal.
Model civic responsibility
Take your child with you if you drop off a meal to a new parent or help someone move furniture. You can explain that it feels good to do things for others. You could also try taking your child to a rally or campaign event so they can see other young people engaged in broader community activities and issues.
Help your child get started
If your child wants to get involved but is a bit worried about it, a family approach might help. You might try joining a local tennis, sailing, football, soccer or photography club as a family. Or you and your child could join an art group or community theatre together.
Your child might need your help to make the first contact with a group. If you make some initial calls for your child, you might be able to increase their chances of success.
Some organisations have a minimum age for volunteers, so it’s worth finding this out early on.
Build on what your child is already doing
If your child isn’t that interested in community activities, one option is to accept this and just keep an eye out for future opportunities. But if you feel a push in the right direction is needed, you could try to build on things they’re already doing.
For example, if your child is in the debating team at school, they might enjoy a junior toastmasters group or an opportunity to speak up on a youth issue. If your child enjoys team sports, they could help out with some junior coaching. If your child has done some fundraising at school, they might like to put this experience into practice raising funds for a worthy cause.
You could also encourage your child to think about their family, friends and neighbours to see whether there’s someone they could help – a new parent or an elderly neighbour, for example.
Community activity and volunteering for young people with additional needs is just as beneficial as it is for typically developing teenagers. It can be a great way for them to build confidence and connections as well as workplace skills. Depending on your child’s strengths, interests and needs, you could look for opportunities in disability-oriented or mainstream organisations.
Child safety in community and volunteer organisations
It’s essential that your child is safe when doing community activities or working for volunteer organisations.
For example, depending on your child’s age, you might decide to meet any adults your child is going to work with, or ensure the adult volunteers or workers have a working with children (WWC) check. You could also agree on ground rules with your child about where they’re allowed to do community work. For example, you might agree that a public facility or space is OK, but a private home isn’t.
Community activities and volunteer organisations
- The Australian Conservation Foundation has a range of volunteering opportunities.
- The Centre for Multicultural Youth has opportunities for people who’d like to get involved with helping young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds in a direct way.
- Clean Up runs the Clean Up Australia Day and other campaigns.
- Friends of the Earth Australia has local groups that are open to new members.
- Girl Guides Australia and Scouts Australia get young people involved in community activities and give them the chance to work on leadership skills.
- Reach Out has involvement programs and special projects for teenagers.
- The YMCA and YWCA have volunteering options for young people.
- The Youth Disability Advocacy Service gives a voice to young people aged 12-25 years who want to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.
You could also check out state-based volunteering websites:
- Australian Capital Territory: Volunteering ACT
- New South Wales: The Centre for Volunteering
- Queensland: Volunteering Queensland
- South Australia and Northern Territory: Volunteering SA&NT
- Tasmania: Volunteering Tasmania
- Victoria: Volunteer.vic
- Western Australia: Volunteering WA
Your child might find out about community activities and volunteering opportunities on social media. You could also find out about local opportunities from your local council or neighbourhood centre.