Evidence That It Works
A study of a diverse group of almost 17,000 high school students found that community service, especially when it is long-term, incorporates student autonomy, and serves a humanitarian cause, has been shown to make students more prosocially oriented.
More specifically, a case study of intergenerational community service discovered that young people learned important skills, such as listening, decision-making, communication, and critical thinking. And both the young and the elderly benefited from the undoing of negative aged-related stereotypes towards the other.
Why Does It Matter?
The key developmental tasks of adolescents are to discover who they want to be (identity) and what they want to contribute to the world (purpose).
Both of these processes, when pursued in a healthy way, lead to long-term well-being. Indeed, people with higher levels of purpose tend to be happier and feel more satisfied with their lives. They have stronger identities and higher levels of self-esteem, and feel more hopeful, optimistic, and confident in their abilities. What’s more, they are more likely to be engaged in their communities in positive, helpful ways.
Schools can play a major role in helping students cultivate their identities and sense of purpose, by helping students explore their values and what matters to them, and by providing opportunities to use their skills to make a difference in the world.