If a modern teenager had a laundry list of things that they’re expected to learn in high school, it would probably include how to get good grades, how to respect authority, and how to accumulate credentials that would make them an appealing candidate for further studies and their future careers. But more teens and more adults in formator roles, for that matter are discovering that there’s more to education than that. 21st-century educational pedagogies are keen to embrace the teens role as a changemaker in their society, especially if they are taught to think and behave more altruistically.
But what exactly is altruism, and how would it be applied in a setting like a Singapore international high school? For those who are curious about the concept, here are some insights about altruism and how teenagers can be motivated to engage in altruistic initiatives.
What Is Altruism, and Why Is It Something That Teens Should Learn?
First, for those who are yet unfamiliar with the term, altruism is defined as a belief system or a set of practices driven out of a deep concern for the wellbeing and betterment of others even if that requires personal sacrifice of one’s own opportunities or comforts. To put it simply, an altruistic life is a life that’s a little less centered on the self, and a little more centered on others.
While some may think that an altruistic way of life is so difficult and burdensome that it can only be understood and practiced by adults, studies on altruism and youth actually show that that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, there seems to be a relationship between youthful idealism and altruistic behavior, with the former inspiring the latter. Though often judged by adults to be self-absorbed and immature, today’s teens have repeatedly demonstrated selfless concern for others based on young, idealistic, but movingly optimistic worldviews. And thanks to their outspoken idealism and altruism, youths are now at the fore of community-oriented and social justice-driven global citizenship.
For certain, there are benefits to practicing altruism in one’s teenage years, even if teenhood seems like a tumultuous and unpredictable period in one’s life. A more altruistic way of life can, in fact, improve a teen’s self-esteem because it shines light on what they’re capable of doing. It can also be a healthy response for feelings of depression, isolation, helplessness, worthlessness, and inadequacy, all of which are quite common in today’s world. Altruism can help teens stay connected to other human beings, as well attuned to their potential to change things for the better. With the right opportunities to be altruistic, teens can grow into their roles as agents of change and make a lasting impact on society even from a young age.
How Can Teens Learn About and Practice Altruism in Their Communities?
With all that being said, both teens and adults alike may wonder about how the former can nurture their altruistic side. Here are four ways for teens to cultivate altruistic attitudes and engage in selfless initiatives for their respective communities:
Learning Outside of Their Comfort Zones
One of the biggest threats to altruism is a sense of complacency or satisfaction for the way life currently is. A teen can develop a healthy sense of doubt about the world, and thus build up their own altruistic sensibility, if they leave their comfort zone for learning. This can involve spending time with the less fortunate and developing empathy for their struggles.
Aligning Their Current Interests with Altruistic Activities
Another way to gradually encourage altruism among teen students is to find a way for their current interests to intersect with altruistic initiatives. For example, athletic teens can pioneer sports leagues for their communities, while students who love literature can head book drives for their community libraries.
Joining Religious or Secular Initiatives
Students can also take the lead of their churches, youth clubs, cultural groups, or other religious and sectoral communities in contributing towards positive change. In fact, these are among the most common avenues for teens to develop their altruistic sensibilities. Teens who get the chance to serve their communities in these ways often continue in their personal ministry well into adulthood or use it as a learning experience for their own endeavors.
Taking Opportunities to Step Up as Servant Leaders
Sometimes, the chance to accept greater responsibility for a community is what drives a teen’s altruistic engagement. When entrusted with the role of an officer, team leader, or other role player, a teen may be able to visualize what more they can do for their community and thus step up for its betterment. To their own surprise, as well as the surprise of adults and other teens, even students who do not fit the bossy or outspoken stereotype of a leader can become effective and passionate leaders.
To paraphrase the American writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck, the youth often go against what’s thought of as the norm, and they often attempt to do what’s impossible. What’s remarkable is how often they can achieve it from generation to generation thanks to their conviction, compassion, and selflessness.