Volunteer work as destiny discovery for teens

Most university-bound teens engage in volunteer work of some kind—it’s almost a requirement for a good college application.

teensBut is there more to it than that?

Some teens say Yes! In addition to building their resume, some say that volunteering helped them:

  • see that their destiny can actually involve doing something that comes easily to them
  • develop compassion for others
  • discover what they’re good at
  • contribute to their quest for meaning

Help them think it through before they commit

One family attends a Presbyterian Church that expects all regular attenders (teens and adults) to volunteer in some way once a month. The idea is that the church belongs to all who call themselves a part of it, and if everyone does a little bit no one is stuck trying to do everything.

412022_4536 preschool activity

So this family is helping their kids think through how they can volunteer. Some of their choices include working in the baby nursery, teaching the younger kids’ classes, cleaning up the meeting area after the service, playing an instrument on the worship team once a month, helping with the community outreach to refugees by teaching English as a second language.

Significant conversations about destiny can occur

Having the teens think about volunteering has created interesting conversations about what each teen is good at, what they care about, what they have to contribute, and how they can feel like a contributing part of the community.

An astonishing ethical statement

1070365_68550240 teenage friends

Recent research indicates support for a possible universal desire: Human beings around the world derive [happiness] from using their financial resources to help others—a surprising ethical and spiritual statement. Even more astonishing is that our little acts of love are capable of producing passion in us that satisfies our thirst for meaning.

Consider the teens in your life. How could they engage in giving to others through loving, helpful acts? How might those actions help themselves as well?

Tweetable: A teen’s acts of charity are capable of producing passion that satisfies the thirst for meaning. Click to Tweet

11 conversation starters for family road trips

road trip

One dad says, “For a long time, my wife and I were so busy responding to the chaos around us in our family that we never had a chance to address the questions of values, meaning and purpose.”

How about you? If you tried out some of these conversation-starters on a road trip this summer, how do you think your children (starting at age 10) might respond?

  • I wish I was more…..
  • My family thinks I am….
  • What I want to accomplish with my life is….
  • These things I do every day are meaningful to me….
  • My life matters because….
  • One thing about myself I would change is…
  • One thing about myself I would never change is…
  • I think that what God thinks about me and my life is….
  • These things that happened to me are part of my developing as a person….
  • I wish my family would…
  • When I want to talk about something important, the person or people I go to are….

For many parents, the thought of opening these conversations with kids can be frightening.

Mountain Biking

Remember, we’re talking about ages 10 and up. We might not like the answers we get. Yet our willingness to talk openly about spiritual matters from their earliest years of life is the gift of wholeness in their being, leading to much greater balance of body, mind, spirit and emotion.

These conversations are gifts you give your children to prepare them for whatever spiritual journeys await them.

When they are young adults, they will take it from here. Where will they take it? Impossible to say– or to control.

Tweetable: How do you think your children will respond to these conversation-starters that touch on their heart and soul? Click to Tweet

Three MORE ways to help children find jobs that they love

Last week’s post detailed three ideas to help a child discover, develop and actively pursue the tasks that they love to do.

  • Action Item #1 – Ask kids what work they like to do
  • Action Item #2 – Guess and try something
  • Action Item #3 – Ask teachers, coaches, friends and family what they observe 

Action Item #4 – Let children quit

Although we often think otherwise, there is actually great value in failure. Failure allows children to rule out a job they don’t enjoy, freeing them to try something else. Not every child needs to be a violinist.

sewing machine

One preteen girl seemed to enjoy sewing with her grandmother, who was an accomplished seamstress. Whenever her grandmother came to visit from out of town, they worked on projects together.

During the next year, for birthdays and holidays, the grandmother would send sewing supplies and gear as gifts for her granddaughter. However, the mom noticed that the girl didn’t sew when her grandmother wasn’t in town. When the girl opened a sewing machine for Christmas, she observed to her parents, “I think grandma thinks I like sewing more than I do.”

It turns out she enjoyed the togetherness of working on a project with her grandmother, not the sewing as an end in itself.

Action Item #5 – Keep a work/task record for the child

hands-color-637381-s hand art

Every parent I know has folders, boxes or digital files of their child’s school work in storage—pictures, stories, projects, poems, hand prints in tempera paint.

Why not keep a file of the jobs, tasks, hobbies the child tried? We have those pictures, but they aren’t separated from the rest of the family photos.

Be intentional. Write down what they love to do and file it away for the child. It might be strategic in choosing a college major someday because a work record makes it possible to see patterns in their childhood experiences.

Action Item #6 – Use their birthday card or baby journal to record milestones

Birthday card


Start giving a child a birthday card each year as a way to record significant developments. By the age of 18 children have forgotten most of their childhood birthday gifts, but a yearly record of who they are, what jobs they loved to do, what they dreamed about, and what motivated them—this helps them find their purpose and see their real self.

They can reread it in times of adolescent angst or in the tough decision about what to do after high school.

So as the birthday nears, look at pictures, your calendar and in your child’s home file to recall and summarize anything that brought purpose and meaning to their life that year.

Baby journal


Another option is to keep a “baby journal” for a child. Every month or so, pull out the journal and write a paragraph or two about what the child was like at six months old, at 2 years old, at 5 years old.

What were their interests? What did they enjoy? What jobs were they good at? What fun stories can you write down from this season of their life? You’ll be amazed at the continuity of the patterns you’ll see over time.

You’ll also be amazed at how delighted your teenager will be to receive and read such a gift.

Next week: Find and build motivation

Tweetable: Ideas for 2 very special gifts for a teen. Not expensive but something only a few people can give them. Click to Tweet


Three ways to help children find work that they love

This boy’s joyful attitude about work is the norm for young children. He sees the connection between his work and a greater purpose.  He delights in being helpful.

As children get older, does it seem that many of them lose the joy?

Chores and work are not the same thing


It’s fair to say that chores build a child’s character and instill belonging within the family unit or classroom. Work calls forth the child’s talents, aptitudes, feelings, intelligence and traits. Work builds purpose and meaning into their life. How do we help children experience meaningful work?

Action Item #1 – Ask kids what work they like to do

Start with one of those tasks and participate with them so that you can see and hear the genuine delight expressed by the child. Your goal is to find work that brings them genuine delight.

When my foster child and I were in the car together, she noticed every homeless person we passed and frequently said softly out loud: “Oh poor thing.” As we talked about homelessness, we came up with an idea.

brown bag

We worked together to purchase nonperishable items and she filled brown bags to keep in the car so she could pass the bags out the window when she was so moved. She was excited every time she was able to deliver another bag and she told me when we needed to make more.


In another example, my family drove seven hours to take a tour of a training center for guide dogs because my preteen sister loved training her pets. My parents wanted to give her some hands-on experience and exposure to this kind of work. (As an adult she was involved with greyhound rescue.)

Action Item #2 – Guess and try something


Paul Bennett, the chief creative officer at a global design firm, traces his identity as a designer to the day when his father, Jim, a former military pilot, brought home The Golden Hands Encyclopedia of Crafts. Jim then spent the next two years sitting with his son, making macramé and knitting God’s eyes [yarn weavings], so that sensitive little kid could explore his talent and find his confidence.” 

Action Item #3 – Ask teachers, coaches, friends and family what they observe

sports stats

At parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher: What tasks is my child happiest doing? One father heard this response from his son’s teacher: Your son is always telling us sports statistics. He is happiest doing math. I wonder if his above average math skills are due in part to his passion for sports stats.”

Ask the same question periodically of extended family members. Invite trusted friends who are retired to spend time working with the child on a project of mutual interest. Many retirees stay in their own world until they are asked. When people are asked to volunteer and help out, they typically do.

Next week, three more action items for us to help children become mindful of the work they enjoy, leading toward an adult life of happiness and purpose.

Tweetable: Three action items for you – children who become mindful of the work they enjoy now have an advantage later. Click to Tweet