A Giving Teen

At a young age, Sarah McDaniel’s daughter lost her left eye to cancer. While the tragedy was a painful time for the McDaniel family, they also experienced much kindness and generosity from others. Because of her experience with generosity, McDaniel says that her daughter gives a Christmas gift to one girl and one boy her age in the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The family also volunteers at many fundraising events around Cincinnati. “My daughter loves helping others,” McDaniel says.

What can parents do to teach their teens how to be generous in an age that doesn’t always value generosity? Here are a few ways.

Teach empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Not all children are adept at empathy — they must be taught first.

Cincinnati mom Sarah Moore teaches her children about the people she encountered in her many travels to Central and South America. “We talk of how different our culture is, and how in their culture, it is important to be generous and empathetic because they depend on one another for survival,” Moore says. “I tell my kids that it’s our differences that bring us together.”

Be a good role model.

A recent study found that parent role-modeling and conversations about giving were strongly related to an adolescent’s giving and volunteering habits. How? Through role modeling and conversations which, ultimately, socializes adolescents to charitable giving and volunteering.

“Parents can demonstrate generosity by helping family, helping neighbors, giving to charitable organizations and volunteering through an organization,” says Dr. Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The key to transmitting generosity, Ottoni-Wilhelm says, is to make sure that kids know that their parents are doing those things. So, to be good role models, parents who volunteer or give to charities should share their experiences with their kids. 

Have a conversation about generosity.

When kids act charitably, parents should point it out with praise, saying something like, “That was very generous of you.”

Parents should also teach kids the meaning of philanthropy, says Kelly Collison of Cincinnati’s Magnified Giving, a Midwest nonprofit educational organization. Collision says that parents should inspire kids to investigate what the community needs and what talents they bring to the table. “When you empower kids, they like that they have done something and made a difference,” Collison says.

Teach generosity early.

Like with teaching children most things, the earlier a parent starts, the more a child understands and practices these deeds throughout their life.

Stephanie Seymour, a year-round volunteer for Operation Christmas Child, has encouraged her children from an early age to be generous.

“We have been packing shoeboxes for years,” says Seymour, who has seven children. “Now, all but one of mine are grown, and I have just one teen left. They pack their shoebox gifts but still come home for my family packing party.”

Being generous can not only help others, but it can change a kid’s world view. Without charitable giving and volunteering, a lot of people would go without help, and a great many causes would go untended. The fact is: The world needs generous people. “For kids to be able to give is eye-opening and heart-opening,” Collison says.

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