Real-World Opportunities for Growth
While adolescents can learn a great deal in a therapeutic boarding school environment, they also need real-world opportunities to apply and practice their acquired skills. As part of Shortridge’s program, many of our teens participate in off-campus activities and outings, such as skiing and hiking, community service, or both. These kinds of experiences can provide valuable opportunities for personal growth. Community outings and service offer adolescents a chance to develop a variety of important social and life skills, find new hobbies and interests, and have fun connecting with others in a new environment. These can be some of the most important sources of real-world development to which teens are exposed.
Community Activities Offer Chances for Social Skills Development
Community-based activities offer numerous new environments in which students can practice their social skills. In community service, students can forge new relationships with their fellow students, team members, and the people they meet. As they meet others in the course of service, students gain experience in making conversation, finding common ground, and relating to others. In more casual outings, students can also bond with others over a shared enthusiasm or interest in the activities or hobbies to which they are exposed. These interests can serve as the basis for lasting relationships, along with the social skills developed from their maintenance. All of these novel situations and environments that students experience help them develop more confidence in their social abilities.
How Community Service Helps Teens Work on Life Skills
As they participate in community service, students naturally develop important leadership and problem-solving skills. Studies have found that “teens who engage in service tend to earn better grades, have more cognitive skills, and are better at decision-making.” Through continual exposure to new scenarios and issues, students learn to work together to apply problem-solving skills. They may delegate tasks to team members, review goals together, and develop plans to overcome challenges. Students may have to make these decisions on-the-spot, developing the ability to think on their feet. With regular work, students develop the senses of duty and discipline necessary to accomplish goals that are important to them. Whatever occupation a student may choose, these are all essential skills for leadership and working in a team. They’re also invaluable for navigating relationships in general, and broadly applicable to many situations that students will face in school, at home, or at work.
How Teens Can Develop a Broader Perspective from Community Service
Adolescence is a formative period of growth where teens learn more about the world outside themselves. Working within one’s community and getting to know the people in it can help teens develop a greater awareness of and empathy for the challenges that others face. Teens meet people in varied walks of life who have had a broad variety of experiences dealing with hardships. When teens get to know these individuals, they learn more about the world, become more sensitive to others’ needs and struggles, and develop greater senses of empathy and compassion. When students cultivate this awareness, they are building emotional skills that help them better relate to and connect with others.
Exposure to New Hobbies and Activities Broadens One’s Horizons
Students are inevitably exposed to new ideas, hobbies, and interests when they participate in outings. A visit to a museum or a theater, or a first encounter with a new sport or one’s first time working with animals, can be a deeply important moment in a teen’s life if it sparks a passion within them. During these years, teens often find the interests and values they will embrace as they grow older. The greater a variety of positive experiences and perspectives to which one is exposed, the greater the chance that a student connects with something that is meaningful to them. This broadening of one’s personal, intellectual, and artistic horizons can spark tremendous growth. It can also set someone up for a potential career path, or a lifelong pursuit of a dream or hobby that they come to love.
Finding a Sense of Purpose and Meaning in Helping Others
Working alongside their peers, students can find a sense of purpose in helping others. When teens work as part of a team to accomplish something important, they often find that it helps them identify what values and convictions are meaningful to them. Finding that sense of meaning, and helping others, can provide teens with a strong sense of personal satisfaction. This kind of values-based action helps students identify their individual strengths, which they can capitalize on in their work and development elsewhere. All of this feeds into their growing sense of confidence and self-esteem. These are crucial aspects of Positive Youth Development as a philosophy, which helps teens achieve healthy, sustained growth as individuals.
How Growth in One’s Community Carries Over to Academic and Personal Growth
The skills and growth that students find in their outings don’t end there and then. Rather, students are likely to bring what they learn back with them when they return to school or home. Students can incorporate the insights gained from their outings and community service into their approach to school, their therapeutic work, and their relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. In terms of academics, students may develop new skills that they can use to improve performance in school and prepare for college. Beyond the classroom, however, all of these areas of growth work to reinforce a student’s social and emotional development, so that adolescents can become more well-rounded and achieve greater success in all aspects of their lives.