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How Helping Strangers Helps a Teens' Self-Esteem

By Sandy Schroeder

No matter how assertive a teen may seem, most struggle with self-esteem at some point. Helping them find the answers that make sense for them might start with helping others, especially strangers, according to new research.

Juli Fraga, a San Francisco psychologist and writer, took a look at this process on recently.

If you are a parent nudging your teen to spend less time online, this sort of volunteering might be a good target. Surveys indicate 55 percent of teens enjoy volunteering and they seem to benefit the most psychologically when they help strangers.

Psychologists reported their findings in the December issue of Journal of Adolescence. They said teens may feel greater self-worth when they help others, especially if it is a stranger. Usually helping a stranger requires the teen to extend themselves, but the results may be worth the effort.

Over 680 adolescents ages 11 to 14 were included in the study, according to one of the researchers, Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, psychology professor at Brigham Young University. The teens summed up their experience saying they helped people they did not know even when it was hard for them to do so. They said they were satisfied with their efforts.

Researchers said the study suggests there is something unique about leaving your own comfort zone to help someone you do not know.

How It Looks Close Up

I saw this happen when I involved my teens in volunteer efforts in hospitals and senior centers. At first they were hesitant, but when it became apparent they were making a difference and the people were really helped, they wanted to continue.

They brought their guitars and played for different groups, playing in a children’s cancer ward, and in a senior center. In both cases, the children and the seniors soon joined in singing along. They were all eager to have them come back, too.

My teens, who tend to be a little reserved, came away with a lot of positive feelings. Later they asked when they could go back, or if there were others they could help.

Psychologists suggest volunteering and helping strangers may help teens cope with peer pressure, conflicts with friends and possible rejection issues. Actually going out, meeting strangers and discovering they could help them might expand their view of the world and improve their own sense of self-worth.

Think about areas in your community that could use your teen’s help. It could be a senior center, hospital, library, children’s cancer ward, or animal center. When we start to look around, there are a lot of people and animals in need out there. Linking some of them up with your teens could be a rewarding idea for everyone involved.

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Maple Grove, Minn. 

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