How to teach your children to become involved in their community

Helping neighbours, volunteering and joining community activities can be rewarding for young people.

By Craig and Marc Kielburger

Damien Zielsinski is a barista who serves morning commuters their daily dose of caffeine. He's a co-owner of Blondie's Cafe, a popular hangout on Queen Street West in Toronto. Between serving customers, he told us about his biggest annoyance - serving people while they are talking on their cell phones.

"It feels almost like I'm a machine just doing a job," says the 27-year-old. "It creates a lost social opportunity to engage with one another and connect as individuals."

The subject is something Damien feels very strongly about. He thinks most of these people aren't intentionally being rude, but, as he sips his espresso behind the counter, he says that rudeness is causing people to miss out on daily chats with the baristas at Blondie's.

Communication is more important than ever
Advances in technology and social networking have changed how we view community. Instead of waving and saying hello to the elderly couple next door, a lot of young people are instead texting their friends about who said what at school that day. They've increased communications within their circle of friends, but they're actually interacting less with the people around them. What's more, with information on just about everything available at our fingertips, it's easy to think we don't need help from anyone these days.

The truth is, people need each other now more than ever. The challenges of the 21st century are great, and no one will be able to meet them alone. They say charity begins at home; we feel home includes the community you live in.

Community involvement is key
In Robert D. Putnam's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, the author discusses how social and community involvement ultimately leads to unselfishness. Putnam says you can actually predict if someone will give time or money by how strong their ties are to family, friends and neighbours.

If you sit down with your kids and ask them questions about the latest teen celebrity, they can probably tell you the minutest details of their life, from their date of birth to their favourite pizza topping. If you ask them about the people who live next door, chances are you'll get a blank stare.

Gus Sinclair is part of an informal welcoming committee in his Toronto neighbourhood. He always makes the effort to smile or say hello when walking by his neighbours. "Every time you shake hands with a neighbor, you make the community stronger," he says.

Gus has a point. Persuading your kids to step away from their gadgets and get to know the members of their community encourages them to care more for those around them. Reaching out to help with local challenges will give them the confidence to continue addressing larger social issues. Ultimately, it will foster an inclination for a lifetime of caring and concern for their fellow citizens – both locally and globally.

Tips for parents:
1.
Lend a hand. Encourage your kids to help neighbours bring in their groceries or weed their garden, and, if they're old enough, your kids can offer to babysit.

2.
Volunteer as a family at a local food bank or soup kitchen. By reaching out together, you'll help others and you'll even get to know one another better as a family and have greater appreciation for each other's strengths.

3. Get involved in a community association to forge friendships, build community spirit and find local solutions to local challenges. Involve neighbourhood youth and let them help plan events they can participate in.


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