Always do right. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

(Mark Twain)


Parenting is a journey of influence, and ordering pizza when our teens are hungry. However, it is also about guiding our teenagers toward becoming capable, responsible individuals. As we walk this path, it’s crucial to recognize that volunteering and extracurricular activities are not just checkmarks for high school graduation; they offer a unique opportunity for our teens to actively engage with their community.

Embrace the Deeper Meaning of Volunteering, not just the 100 hours to graduate. Find a community service project where your teen and maybe even the whole family can be an integral part of their community. Volunteering allows your teen to be part of something that is unique and can change the community in which they live, and they can experience the power of collective efforts for a greater good. It is very satisfying to be a part of a community project where you see a difference in people’s lives or the environment in which you live.

Zooming in on volunteering, we will discover an integral part of what volunteering builds in our teen; the cultivation of empathy. Volunteering exposes our teens to a spectrum of human experiences, fostering a genuine understanding of the struggles and triumphs of others. Whether it’s participating in local initiatives or offering a helping hand at shelters, they’re not merely spectators – they’re integral to the change they wish to see. This first hand involvement in community projects cultivates empathy, encouraging them to embrace their roles as compassionate leaders. Having your teen listen to life stories of others and how those experiences shaped who they are and where they now find themselves builds a wider perspective of which your teen will view the world. This growing perspective builds their empathy, their ability to want to make a difference and finding avenues in ways to enrich the community in which they live.

Next is the commitment to extracurricular activities, such as school clubs and sports teams. It isn’t merely a pastime, or an activity that looks good on the common application for college. Extracurricular activities are an arena where leadership skills flourish. Picture your teen as a team captain, orchestrating events, and leading group discussions. Just as important is showing up for practices, supporting team members and encouraging each person on the “team” to perform to the best of their ability. It is also understanding and supporting your team members when they have lost sight of how important they are to the team. It is offering encouragement and understanding when someone is struggling to perform. It is taking the moment to find the why behind the struggle versus dismissing the team member. These endeavors empower your teen to understand the nuances of motivating peers, distributing tasks, and effectively addressing challenges that arise when working collaboratively.

Empathy is a cornerstone of leadership, a leader who possesses empathy has a unique capacity to relate to those they lead, to discern their needs, and to inspire through understanding. When our teens engage in volunteering and participate in extracurricular activities, they’re not merely learning a set of skills; they’re developing empathy. Empathy enriches leadership by enhancing communication, fostering collaboration, and nurturing a sense of shared purpose. A leader who can genuinely understand and connect with others is poised to lead with integrity, compassion, and a commitment to positive change.

Volunteering and extracurricular activities are areas in which our teens can develop their leadership skills. This goes beyond the mandatory participation to meet graduation criteria. It’s about embracing the opportunity to be part of a community, to experience the responsibilities that come with leading peers, and to cultivate empathy through meaningful interactions.
As parents, our role is to encourage teens to actively engage in these activities, to explore, and to internalize the invaluable lessons they offer. With each volunteer project and each extracurricular activity, your teen has the opportunity to further develop their leadership skills. By developing and gaining an understanding of the transformative power of empathy your teen will discover the profound impact they can have on the lives of others.