Enabling Youth to Take (Positive) Risks

It’s 8 a.m. on a summer day and your mom makes you get out of bed. She says you’re signed up to volunteer all day today, and this is the first you’ve heard of it. You’re volunteering with an organization called YVC, and you didn’t even have the chance to invite at least one friend to come with you.

You drag yourself out of bed and get ready to go volunteer, cursing you’re up early and going to be volunteering somewhere where you don’t know anyone at all. After all, showing up anywhere alone as a teenager can be more painful than getting your wisdom teeth out.

You show up at the project, and sure enough, you don’t recognize a single person. Luckily, there’s a Team Leader who’s taken charge of the group and seems friendly. Before long, he’s leading the group in an icebreaker game, and you learn that one of your fellow Youth Volunteers goes to your rival school.

You begin working on the project, and before long you’ve pushed a dozen wheelbarrows full of bark mulch down the nature center trail. After a while, you’ve noticed you have more in common with the rest of the group than you thought even though the group is from all over the community and range in age from 11 to 18. Sure, as a 16 year-old you don’t often hang out with 11 year-olds, but there’s an 11 year-old volunteer who has the same passion for sports that you do.

Before long, the Team Leader gives the group a chance to take a break. The awkward silence from just a few hours ago is gone as everyone laughs about the time the wheelbarrow rolled uncontrollably down the hill, and you brag about having pushed the most wheelbarrow loads. The Team Leader also leads the group in a teambuilder game. You never expected a game called Charades Relay could be fun, but you gave it a try with the rest of the group then requested to play it again later when it turned out to be a blast.

All too soon, 3 p.m. had arrived, and the group had to say goodbye. Luckily, you knew you’d all be returning for three more days of volunteering, fun and new friends. The awkward situation gave way to an awesome day of making a difference in the community, and you couldn’t wait to go home and sign up for more volunteer projects in the future.

We hear it all the time: Teens are faced with risks every day. They may be exposed to drugs, violence, inappropriate behavior and so much more. But they’re also given the chance to take risks which lead to a positive outcome such as taking the risk to show up at a volunteer project where they don’t know anybody. Taking the risk to talk with a fellow volunteer from another school and finding out you actually have a lot in common. Taking the risk to play a new, silly game and have a lot of fun while doing so.

New research has shown risks are healthy for teens to take, and both teens and adults find happiness when they take risks. That’s not to say teens should be seeking out negative risky behaviors like drugs and alcohol. Instead, they can find a positive outlet to fulfill this desire for risks by taking positive risks and experiencing new things.

Developmental psychologist Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell conducted a study showing teens experience happiness when they are taking positive risks like those associated with volunteering. They pushed their boundaries and learned they were capable of new things, and this helped them find happiness through the experience. This kind of risk-taking could also help fulfill teens’ desires to take risks so that they aren’t so tempted to take more dangerous and negative risks. You can read more about her study and the implications this research has here.

YVC gives youth the chance to take risks of all kinds: trying new service projects, meeting new youth from different walks of life, meeting the people they’re serving and learning new skills. We’ve long believed volunteering can change a youth’s life, so we’re glad to see it can make them happier along the way.

If you’d like to take a turn stepping out of your comfort zone, donate to YVC to make a difference in the lives of youth by giving them the opportunity to take positive risks.

A huge thanks to Dr. Price-Mitchell for her enlightening study. If you’re interested in the research behind youth service, make sure to check out her website Roots of Action to learn more.