How lucky is your adolescent child?

October 18, 2018 by Community newsdesk
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It’s a common complaint from parents of adolescents: “my child doesn’t know how lucky they are.”

Photo: Jarrod Freedman

A Melbourne researcher has now discovered how: by encouraging them to help others. A recent study conducted by the University of Melbourne and Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, has found that adolescent girls experience a clear improvement in gratitude from engaging in regular volunteering.

The Twelve Batmi Program, a year-long volunteering program for twelve-year-old Jewish girls, was the case study for a research project conducted as part of Timothy Bramley’s Masters of Clinical Psychology degree at The University of Melbourne. The title of Bramley’s thesis was “Positive psychological effects of volunteering in early adolescence”. Bramley found that by engaging in regular volunteering, girls then became more willing to engage in altruistic behaviour, and were able to appreciate the differences between their own lives and the people they were helping.

Through the Twelve Batmi Program, 120 girls and parents engage in hands-on volunteering with various charities across Melbourne, such as cooking and delivering meals to disadvantaged residents of government housing, visiting residents at aged care homes and making Mother’s Day hampers for mothers in refuges.  The program marks the girls’ batmitzvah or Jewish coming of age. An overall sentiment of satisfaction in response to volunteering was also recorded, with the girls feeling more socially connected. This, researcher Tim Bramley believes, could be due to the program’s unique ability to allow the girls to have direct contact with the recipients of the charities’ services. 
Twelve founder Moran Dvir said, “We’re delighted that this research has confirmed what we see each time our girls get out into the community: that giving back and helping others is a fantastic anecdote to today’s fast-paced world for adolescents. Our girls tell us each time after they volunteer how lucky they feel, and express gratitude for their families, their health and their homes. They feel so excited and empowered to be able to make a difference to someone’s life.”
Through participation in the program, the research assessed empathy, gratitude and life satisfaction by testing the girls’ thoughts at the beginning of the program and six-months into the program. Findings indicate that feelings of gratitude were significantly improved over this time frame. Feelings of empathy (both cognitive and effective), were also impacted, evident in the girls’ language and expression.

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