Teens who are encouraged to move outside their comfort zone—as in, away from Mom and Dad—can learn life lessons beyond the ones acquired on the job. Besides giving back to local communities, volunteer trips can be a great way to expand your child's worldview and help her feel more mature. Travel and service programs in the U.S. and abroad for high school students are gaining in popularity, and many are open to kids as young as 14.
Be sure to do your research first, though. Trips can get pricey because you may be asked to pay a fee in addition to supervision, travel, meals, and lodging expenses. "And while they may provide a wonderful experience, many are glorified vacations and won't help a teen demonstrate that they can make a meaningful impact," says Schwartz. She recommends looking for programs that run long enough—several weeks or more in one location—that your child has time to learn demonstrable skills and build a solid relationship with the adult in charge. (The adult can then become a reference.) Idealist.org is a good place to start. If your child is receptive, don't overlook religious groups: Adventures.org can help you track down suitable mission excursions, and werepair.org offers cool service trips for Jewish teens. There's no need to use formal programs, either: If you've got family in New Orleans, for example, your teen can set up an extended visit and find plenty of volunteer opportunities in that area.