Volunteering Improves Teens' Self-Esteem

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Unrelenting pressure to achieve often leaves teens feeling discouraged and even depressed when they don’t meet their goals or people disappoint them.  The discouragement and depression teens feel due to pressure to achieve often impacts teen’s self-esteem.

According to one recent study, teens today are under great pressure to achieve and to even seek perfection. They perceive that others are more demanding of them, and in turn are more demanding of others and even themselves. In fact, the study says that this problem is getting worse each year.

But a team of researchers from a US university have found a way that helps many teenagers feel better about themselves and get off the treadmill of personal achievement and comparison of themselves with others--and it involves acts of kindness.

However, the acts of kindness that brings about a measurable improvement in teens’ self-esteem and wellbeing are not just any acts of service. For instance, the study found that while helping friends and family is good for a teen’s spirit and soul, it is service to strangers that has a lasting effect on teen self-esteem, a change that can be charted even a year later.

In an interview, one of the researchers, Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, said she thought that the element of risk and leaving one’s comfort zone to help someone they don’t know could be the key. "Helping a stranger is more challenging than assisting a friend, and when teens take this risk, they feel more competent," she says.

Even though Jesus urged us to be godly (Matthew 5:38), His teaching to “be perfect” comes right in the middle of Jesus’s other teachings about getting outside your comfort zone by going the extra mile, loving your enemies, and other actions and attitudes that don’t “come naturally.”

The Bible also urges believers, young and old, not to compare ourselves with others but to strive for excellence not through self-promotion, but through serving others.

Could it be that selfless service projects could be a way to help your teen with his or her self esteem?

Since 1992, Dr. Robinson has worked in a variety counseling positions. She is also a popular author and speaker on topics ranging from childhood development and sexuality, teen issues, family dynamics including caring for elderly relatives, and church resources for families.

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