Problem: A quiet, anxious teen who's uncomfortable interacting with strangers.
Solution: Skip the soup kitchen. There are other ways to give back that don't involve face-to-face communication. Try sending care packages to troops overseas or creating gift baskets for needy families. Tech-savvy teens can also help small organizations update their Web sites for free.
Problem: A kid who values time with friends more than family.
Solution: Let him bring a buddy. Friends can help make the activity more fun, says Debra J. Berg, guide to charity and volunteering at SelfGrowth.com. Or suggest that he sign up for a church or synagogue youth group that does service projects—it keeps the experience social.
Problem: Homework, extracurricular activities, and a social life leave little time for volunteering.
Solution: Suggest a small commitment—as little as every other month, or a one-time project, like painting a mural on a community center building. Berg also mentions the benefits of volunteer vacations, which can be scheduled around school breaks.
Problem: The initial excitement for a project wanes.
Solution: Some kids are very passionate, but they can burn hot, then go cold, says Berg. To keep up enthusiasm, parents should remind them of the impact, says author Jenny Friedman. Say something like "I bet you made that little girl very happy by visiting her in the hospital." It reinforces the value of community service and makes kids more likely to stick with it.
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.