As a lifelong volunteer, I cannot remember a time when giving back to others was not a part of my life. My memories as a child, as well as many of the valuable lessons I learned, came from helping others. Whether it was building wheelchair ramps for disabled individuals or tutoring young children in an after-school reading program, service was instrumental in the formation of my identity as an adult. There are countless reasons why kids should get involved with service, the earlier the better, but I will attempt to outline 3 of the most important ways giving back helps children to form their own identity:
1. Volunteering Allows for Exposure to Difference. One of the most important aspects of a child’s identity formation is the exposure he or she has to those who are different than him/herself. We learn just as much from those who are similar to us than from those who are different; the added exposure of environment, poverty, race, culture, etc. gives kids a more well-rounded view of the world early on.
2. Serving Others Instills Perseverance. Service is not always fun. Sometimes giving time and energy to someone else can be extremely hard. Even though some activities might take long periods of time, kids learn how to persevere and finish the tasks they start, simply because someone is counting on them. This teaches them what they are capable of in a way that also allows them to form a positive view of themselves.
3. Giving Back Builds Humility. The ability to be humble about one’s accomplishments is a part of identity formation that is sometimes taken for granted. Completing various acts of service for other people allows kids to feel good about what they are doing, but also gives them a chance to learn the importance of being humble. In an environment of giving back, being modest about what you have done becomes second nature. Service is also a space that is relatively free from competition, which is a great way for students to learn humility.
While there are many more ways that giving back and serving others helps children to form their own identity, increased exposure to difference, lessons of perseverance, and the natural building of humility are great reasons that young children should make service a priority in their lives, and why we should encourage them to do so.