American teenagers have been branded as "lazy" and "disengaged from the world."
Society views them as uninvolved and not focused on making an impact on their community and environment. This social stigma has persisted for some time, but a study by the United Nations Foundation and the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is challenging that myth.
The survey followed 903 youth ages 8-19 from 2002 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2008. It was designed to investigate how today's young people give to charity and ways in which parents teach their teenagers about giving.
The researchers were careful to examine how charitable giving varies based on sex, age, income and race. This study yielded several significant and reassuring results:
1)Nearly 9 out of 10 children ages 8-19 give to charity.
2)Girls and boys are equally likely to give money to charity. Girls are somewhat more likely than boys to volunteer.
3)Talking to children about charity has a greater impact on their giving than parents acting as role models alone.
4)Talking to children about charity is equally effective regardless of a parent's income level or a child's gender, race and age.
Debra Mesch is Director of the Women's Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She guides the research for the school on the role of gender in philanthropy.
With her colleagues at the school, she has studied gender differences in the motivations for giving – addressing gender differences as to how and why men and women give; the household dynamics of giving and the influence of women as decision-makers in household giving; gender differences in giving of high net worth households; and the role of women in transforming philanthropy.
"Today, younger girls volunteer more than boys," Mesch said. "Women in all generations have typically volunteered more."
When asked about the gender difference, she said, "I think that girls and boys are socialized differently. Girls are taught to take care of others, and have a greater sense of responsibility to the family and community. They are more collaborative and favor interaction while boys are socialized to be more independent."
Mesch said she was encouraged by the results of the study, which showed that charitable giving is not impacted by socioeconomic background, age and gender, contrary to popular belief.
"I have hope for this generation because they are more involved with charitable giving," she said. "I am a Baby Boomer and we didn't have the opportunities that today's youth have."
Melissa Hirsch, the director of Youth & Volunteer Programs at HandsOn Broward, agreed.
"The main goal is to make sure teen volunteers understand that they have the ability to make a difference and to make their mark on their community and on the world. When they have that knowledge and understanding, they feel empowered to serve and change their communities."
She, too, is positive about the growing trend in teenagers' increased participation in the community. "HandsOn Broward has seen a rise in teens getting involved in volunteering. Many of them come to us because they're required to do 40 hours of service to graduate, but we find many times they stick around far beyond their 40-hour requirement."
Elizabeth Gore, the resident entrepreneur at the U.N. Foundation and chairman of the U.N. Foundation's Global Entrepreneurs Council, said she was excited about the results of the study.
"It was such an in-depth study with such great data, and I was really happy to see that no matter your background, you have the ability to give back. This blows stereotypes that people from marginal backgrounds or of a lower socioeconomic class cannot volunteer as much as others. Unfortunately, there continues to exist a public stereotype that this occurs, and that teens are lazy and do not want to volunteer."
On how parents should encourage their children, she said, "I think that parents need to talk more to their children about volunteering and taking part in the community, not just allow them to learn from observing others. This study shows that talking really does work. Schools and organizations should also provide more opportunities for teenagers to engage in community service and offer different types of activities that can be done on a continual basis, not just yearly or bi-yearly events."