Charity Begins at Home

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 21st, 2010 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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I am happy to report that I have data to support what I had always assumed (or was it hoped?):  most parents want their children to become philanthropic.  According to a recent poll conducted by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau, commissioned by Pearson Foundation and the Penguin Group, 90% of the 500 parents surveyed say “it is important to raise children to become charitable adults.”

Wanting and succeeding, though, are two very different things.  And apparently, most of the 90% of those parents aren’t being very successful for the simple reason that they aren’t doing the right things to get their desired results.  Sometimes, it appears, they are talking out of both sides of their mouths, while other times they simply may think they are doing the right thing when, in fact, this research shows it isn’t the right thing.

Take, for example, this startling finding:  though 90% of the parents wanted their children to become charitable adults, only 34% of the parents said it was “very important to them that their children gave of their time and resources to help others.”  But of the 500 teens (ages 13-18 years) who were surveyed, 42% of the “teen givers” (defined as those who frequently or often volunteered to help others and raised money for a cause, brought others together for a cause or donated money; teen givers comprised 29% of the group) said their parents cared a great deal if they gave of their time and/or resources to help others, compared to 15% of the non-giving teens who said the same.  If that isn’t a confusing message:  become a charitable adult but you don’t need to start now.

Or, this finding:  teen givers were more than twice as likely (29%) as non-givers to have a paying job and more than twice as likely (31%) to help neighbors.  Only 13% of parents required a paying job, though 26% did require helping neighbors.

As an educator and bookworm, I am particularly heartened by the finding that 45% of teen givers were read to as a child on a daily basis (compared to 35% of non-givers).  Fortunately, 68% of parents believe that there is a strong connection between reading and a child’s ultimate giving behavior.

Looking at the group of teens as a whole—the givers and non-givers together—the number one factor influencing teens to give back and become charitable is their parents.  That should come as no surprise.  (In fact, if Senator William Proxmire were still alive, and had this research cost far more than I am assume it did, I’m sure that finding alone would make this a candidate for a Golden Fleece Award.)  So, parents/guardians—and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and key influential adults–listen up:  model the right behavior; include the children in your life in your philanthropic activities and discussions on how to use your charitable dollars; and read the ten parenting tactics for producing charitable teens.  It just might ensure that our children will inherit a kinder, gentler, more caring world.

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