What does the future hold for the nonprofit sector? Philanthropists and social impact entrepreneurs need only look as far as their own homes for an answer. In fact, research suggests that youth are psychologically equipped for charitable, pro-social lifestyles at an early age. One such study found that before toddlers reach 24 months old, they feel greater happiness when giving or sharing rather than receiving. Whether or not children continue to develop their innate potential for generosity depends in large part on parenting strategies.
Researchers at Harvard University undertook a study titled “The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values”. Key statistics from the report revealed that parents almost unanimously agree (96 percent) on the importance of instilling strong moral character in their children, and they note that ethics and generosity are two crucial elements of that identity. However, roughly 8,000 of the 10,000 middle school students surveyed reported that their parents prioritized personal achievement over the happiness of others. The study showed that teachers also emphasize student achievement rather than rewarding caring and kindness.
Each year, graduating high school students around the country hear the various valedictory maxims about the world they are about to enter and their obligations to make it a better place. How, then, can parents help their children to foster a lasting desire to help others and work toward social change? Here are a few suggestions for implementing charitable practices at home:
1. Encourage conversations about generosity
Many after-school conversations between parents and their children focus on logistical issues, such as asking how much homework needs to be done. While these types of discussions are necessary and have their place, parents might consider first asking if their children witnessed any acts of kindness or if their friends impressed them in any unusual ways. The strategy can help children to be more mindful of goodwill as they go about their school day.
2. Involve the family in giving
Incorporating charity into a regular, predictable schedule is another way that parents can help their children. Consider setting aside one evening or an entire Saturday each month when the entire family volunteers together. Due to the millions of nonprofit organizations operating around the country, there is no shortage of opportunities to help others. However, this family time may not even involve a fully organized effort. It could be something as simple as picking up trash around the neighborhood.
3. Teach children about money management
Generosity also entails responsibility. Helping children to be more socially minded should also include lessons in how to manage their finances. Some possible approaches might include providing an allowance for work done around the house and yard. However, with this payment parents should avoid giving any types of loans. In this way, children will learn how to work until they have enough money saved and then allocate their disposable income accordingly.
When kids grow older, their parents might help them open a bank account and show them how to balance a checkbook. By following these steps, parents could also demonstrate the ways they approach their own finances and how they decide to donate to or sponsor various social causes.
4. Ask engaging questions about issues close to home
Similar in concept to effective after-school discussions, questions about issues in the community and how to potentially solve them are another great way to engage children. Instead of talking at length about global issues or ones that may feel are too abstract to relate to, ask questions about matters with which children can empathize. Help them to see that people are working toward a solution and that they can also participate in brainstorming.
5. Manage the amount of screen time
Television commercials and online advertisements target the younger demographic with offers of dining and drinks, and they do attract attention. Less time spent watching shows and browsing the web means children will spend less time seeing things that they lack and want for themselves. However, screen time can also benefit children, as they watch ads for charity organizations or search for ways that children like them are volunteering in service projects—and having fun doing it.
6. Read literary fiction
While reading in general is always a good idea, studies show that reading literary fiction can increase levels of empathy in the reader. As children follow the storyline of the narrator and protagonist, they start to see the world through new eyes. The capacity for empathy applies to their everyday interactions with others.
7. Put a new spin on tradition
Birthdays and holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah can evolve into new traditions when you have an opportunity to give. For example, a charity gift card or planned trip to participate in a service project can help children look outward on certain days of the year. Another option might be to create an entirely new holiday on which your family can make a difference each year.
8. Emphasize the importance of caring for others
Celebrate children’s successes in regard to pro-social living. Rewarding children beyond what their acts of kindness already provide may send a mixed message. However, reminding them of their value and worth each time they help to improve the lives of others is a technique that can positively influence them.