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Giving Isn’t Just for the Holidays: Teaching Teens How to Give Back

There plenty of research about the value of giving back for teenagers. But teenagers aren’t necessarily at a stage of life where doing for others comes naturally. Here are four ways to encourage teenagers to give back.

Charitable Giving Ideas For Teenagers: Help Teens Give Back

1. Be a group giver.

Fourteen-year-old Kara Buckner of Seminole, Florida, does an “intentional blessings” outreach with her family each year. They brainstorm simple things that can make a stranger smile. Some examples include “candy bombing” a parking lot, where they put candy on cars at the grocery store, or taping popcorn and a note on the local Redbox movie machine.

Make it work for you: Suggest that your teenager and a group of friends start a similar campaign in your community. Help them think of low-cost, fun ideas, and have them pool their money.

2. Tap into a passion.

15-year-old Rowan Laine of Issaquah, Washington, insisted that the money that would have been spent on one of his holiday gifts instead go to the local Humane Society. “He became interested in the pets living there when his grandparents adopted a dog,” says his mom Claudia.  For the past three years, Claudia has given Rowan $100 to spend on his endeavor.

Make it work for you: Talk about what causes are important to your teen, whether it’s animal welfare, underprivileged kids, or a disease that affects a loved one. Then have your teenager research an organization that addresses those pressing issues. If it’s local and they can visit, even better.

3. Make it personal.

My son Tate spent a week this summer helping at a homeless shelter. He developed a new understanding of the many problems that can contribute to homelessness. This past holiday season, he used his own money to make a gift to the shelter, where he feels a personal connection.

Make it work for you: “Sometimes you have to pop their bubble and actually take them to places where they can see people living in poverty or sickness,” says Rachel Cruze, New York Times best-selling author of Smart Money Smart Kids. “It can be truly life-altering.”

4. When all else fails, give them a push.

Sometimes you may have to be a bit more proactive. “This can be a selfish time of life—and as a parent, you have to do what’s best for them, just like you’d make them get adequate sleep or brush their teeth,” Cruze says. “You’re not just trying to raise good kids but raise kids who are going to be great adults, and sometimes you have to step in and make that happen.”

Make it work for you: Who’s in charge around there? That’s right, you! Consider requiring them to designate a portion of their allowance or their paycheck for donating, then help them find the right cause.

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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