Have you been prodding your teen to become more helpful to others? Well, it turns out that teens who help others may benefit just as much as the recipients of the good deeds they do, according to a new study from Laura Padilla-Walker, professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.
Padilla-Walker found that teens who participated in “prosocial behavior”—that is, actions intended to help others—experienced a boost in self-esteem. They feel better about themselves and more positive about the world in general.
In order to benefit, teens must direct the behavior toward strangers, not family or friends.
It’s not that you or your family don’t count—rather, it’s that society generally sees good works on behalf of strangers as being higher-cost, Padilla-Walker says. Helping friends and family is typically expected as part of a relationship, but helping those you don’t know is optional.
“When teens go above and beyond to help someone else, they start to feel like they are making a difference. They start to feel that they are needed, which influences their moral identity and their self-esteem,” she says.
Sometimes young people are hesitant to join service projects, so Padilla-Walker recommends parents help teens find a cause that they can get behind, whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen or at a school for disadvantaged kids.
“The key is that youth see the positive impact they are making and also how good their life is relative to others. This will help them feel gratitude,” she says.
Padilla-Walker has found other benefits to helping others, too, including that it helps teens stay out of trouble. And—wait for it—service to others also improves familial relationships. So there’s hope that after volunteering at the senior center, teens may also bring home some of that feel-good glow. And that’s a win-win for everyone.