How Giving Back Artfully Can Give Your Teen a Boost

The teen years. They’re a rollercoaster of changes that come fast and furious as the brain and body struggles to adapt to a new world order. Sound familiar? Even for adults, the pandemic can feel like an unwelcome callback to our adolescence.

Parents often gripe about their teenager’s mood swings and sometimes questionable judgment, chalking up any unpleasantness to raging hormones. With stay-at-home orders in place, the whole family may be feeling these teenage ups and downs more acutely. That’s because the teenage brain is not meant for a life of confinement. Cut off from their typical sources of joy and entertainment, teens may feel especially stifled right now.

The good news is, there are ways to meet teens’ developmental urges that are safer for the whole community. Though they are stereotypically ridiculed for their self-absorption, it turns out that teens have a fundamental need to give back. And there are many people in need of a helping hand right now.

Why Doing Good is Great for Your Teen

During the teen years, those hormonal changes like increases in dopamine make our brain circuitry more responsive to rewards. Teenagers are naturally wired to seek out rewards that elicit pleasurable feelings or cause them to learn, like socializing with friends, taking risks and trying new things.

The brain’s reward system also lights up when helping others. This is largely due to humans being social creatures. Because teens tend to have growing social circles, it’s easier for them to find causes to back. This allows them to double down on the joy of making a difference in their communities while feeling a sense of belonging and identity

It turns out that helping others not only feels good but actually is good for you. Teens who give back can enjoy benefits to their physical and emotional health. In one study, tenth-grade students who volunteered weekly with elementary school students had lower cardiovascular risk (cholesterol and BMI) than those who didn’t volunteer. The more they volunteered, the lower their risk. In another study, teens—particularly those who were experiencing higher levels of depression—reported being in a better mood on days they were giving back to others.

In perhaps the best news for parents, helping the family out actually makes adolescents happy. These contributions—like caring for siblings or helping to cook, clean or run errands—can both promote and fulfill key adolescent needs for autonomy, identity, and intimacy. Helping other people may also increase the likelihood that teens learn to show sympathy and empathy for others, marking their maturation toward young adulthood. It’s more than an old saying: science shows that giving really is better than receiving.

How to Get Started with Artful Altruism

There are many creative ways that teens can help others (and reap the benefits themselves) during the COVID-19 crisis.

For Their Community

  • Make cloth face masks to distribute to friends, neighbors and essential workers.
  • Participate in the #SafeHands challenge on Instagram. Make a fun video to demonstrate handwashing skills.
  • Write letters or make art for a local nursing home or senior center.
  • Raise money for relief efforts. Make cards, artwork, jewelry, or other handcrafted items to sell virtually. Or organize virtual “thons” (walk, skate, bowl, swim, bike, rock, read, dance) of an activity that people can do and track individually. Anython and RallyUp are two online tools that can help you organize these.

For Neighbors

For Family & Loved Ones

  • Take your younger siblings on a virtual field trip.
  • Cook dinner for the family.
  • Participate in the Ving project: Teens 14-18 years old can make a two-minute video to win $1,000 to surprise someone they love who is in need.


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#ghencovychallenge #handwashingmove #coronahanddance #VuDieuRuaTay 🌏 Because more international friends are coming to this post so I will change this to English for everyone: COVID-2019 disease is spreading, affecting people and social activities. Regular handwashing is considered a simple and effective method to protect the community from diseases (according to the World Health Organization). According to research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 78% of people say they wash their hands often but only 25% actually wash their hands after going to the toilet, 20% wash their hands before cooking. To spread the habit of washing your hands to prevent this disease, I invite you to take part in the #ghencovychallenge challenge with me. Game rules: You perform the dance of the song Ghen Co Vy with 6 hand washing movements as recommended by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health, based on the music song COVID-19 prevention – Jealousy, cooperation between Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health, musician Khac Hung, singer Min and singer Erik. Take this challenge or share the following epidemic prevention habits: 1. Wash your hands often with soap or an antiseptic solution. 2. Do not put hands on eyes, nose and mouth. 3. Regularly clean personal hygiene, hygiene of utensils, houses and surroundings. 4. Wear a mask to go to public places, on vehicles or when you are sick. 5. Self-awareness to improve health for themselves, the family and the community. 6. People with symptoms of COVID-19 have high fever, cough, shortness of breath, etc. or close contact with infected person / person suspected of COVID-19 and limit contact with other people and contact local health facilities. After completing the challenge, SHARE + TAG immediately 2 friends want to join this challenge. ✌ 🌐 for news reporters and press who want to use my video, please feel free to do so. 🌐 for people want to dance my choreography, please feel free to do so, it’s all yours 🌐 join hands to spread this extremely useful message! 😉 #handwashdance #handwashingdance

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This is article is a part of IAM Lab’s regularly updated COVID-19 NeuroArts Field Guide. Be sure to check the Guide for the latest, evidence-based tips on how the arts can support our wellbeing during the pandemic.

We would also like to hear from you: Are you, your loved ones or colleagues dealing with specific issues and want to learn more about art-based solutions?  Are you already using the arts to help you cope?   

Please share your thoughts, ideas and concerns with us at  Be well and stay safe.

Lead Image: cottonbro / Pexels

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