Teen Talk: Forced volunteerism may be a turn-off

Should volunteering remain voluntary?

Many schools in America, including my own, require that teens complete a certain number of community service hours to graduate. But with school, sports, and extracurriculars, is it fair that our schools assign us more work?

While I was growing up, my parents always encouraged the idea of volunteering. In elementary school, I held small fundraisers with my friends to support the monarch butterfly migration or the local animal shelter.

Both then and now, I view volunteering as enjoyable work that benefits my community. However, as time passed, I began to volunteer less. Not because I didn’t enjoy it anymore or no longer cared about helping others, but because I was just too busy.

In middle school and high school, students are often burdened with rigorous honors and AP classes, multiple sports, several hours of homework each night, a part-time job, and other clubs or societies that they are interested in. This leaves little time to sleep, relax, or spend time with friends and family.

Though volunteering offers many benefits — it raises self-esteem, introduces teens to new people, creates safer communities, and exposes teens to new perspectives — should it really be required for students who have so much on their plates already?

When teens are forced to complete a certain number of hours in a certain selection of activities by a certain date, it becomes just another task to complete rather than a learning experience. We may want to rush to complete it, rather than to learn from it.

When I entered my current school and found out the number of hours I was required to volunteer, I, along with many of my peers, completed them as soon as possible. Typically, if younger students are required to complete a certain number of voluntary service hours by their senior year, they prefer to complete them sooner rather than later. So even if we enjoy or learn from the experience, it may be viewed as just another thing that we can cross off our to-do lists.

In the past, I have volunteered everywhere from summer camps to soup kitchens. I can’t deny that volunteering is a powerful and valuable experience. Knowing that I have positively affected my community never fails to boost my self-confidence and improve my mood.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a group of children with special needs. It was a touching experience to see how much they appreciated having a new friend to play with for a few hours. Even though volunteering may be time-consuming, it may turn out to be a very rewarding experience as well.

But should students be required to complete a certain number of hours to graduate? One student argues, “You’re not supposed to be doing community service just so you can tell someone you did them. They’ve made it like homework now, when you should be doing it because of the impact it has, not because it was assigned and you just need to turn it in.”

Has requiring students to complete volunteering hours made them view it as work rather than a beneficial experience? Perhaps instead of requiring each student to complete a certain number of hours, schools should make volunteering an easy and accessible option.

Half of teenagers volunteer, even though only a fraction are required to do so for school. Rather than forcing teens to complete community service, which risks a decline in long-term volunteering, let’s keep volunteering voluntary.

Maria Proulx of Ledyard is a sophomore at St. Bernard School in Montville.

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