Volunteerism during adolescence
Civic engagement has far-reaching consequences for individuals and for society, lowering crime, drug use, violence, joblessness, fostering education, economic success, both physical and mental health (Oesterle, Johnson, Mortimer, 2004). A form of civic participation is achieved through volunteerism. The definition of volunteerism varies in different contexts due to different national and organisational policies on voluntary work. In this paper, the definition of volunteerism includes all long-term, planned, and non-obligatory prosocial activities that benefit another person, cause or a group (Cemalcilar, 2009). Therefore, a volunteer is one who makes a considered personal choice to offer, share, and commit one's time, energy, skills, talents, experiences and/or expertise to programmes that benefit/serve the community or society (Applied Research Corporation, 2000).
Specifically, volunteerism during adolescence is an area of growing interest worldwide. Except for research on school-based service learning programs, research on volunteerism is primarily based on adult populations and older volunteers (Oesterle, Johnson, Mortimer, 2004; see also Marta, Guglielmetti, & Pozzi, 2006). A more recent and developing line of research investigated civic engagement among high school and college students (Cemalcilar, 2009). While there is increasing research on this phenomenon, existing literature largely combines adolescents', youths' and young adults' data as one sub-group and may have missed out on the unique data for each developmental phase. Existing empirical research has documented that the positive benefits of volunteer engagement on adolescent development include social, cognitive, psychological development, development of identity, political awareness, autonomy, sense of belonging and reduction of risk factors (Tessier, Minh-Nguyet, Gagnon, 2006). In light of these beneficial effects of volunteering, schools, religious organisations, and the government have been actively promoting youth volunteerism through various avenues.
This status paper summarizes and reviews the evidence on volunteerism during adolescence, bearing in mind the considerable differences among countries with different cultures. Additionally, this paper also aims to address the gaps in current literature, with a focus on what research should examine in the future and the implications for voluntary organisations and related parties.
The Volunteering Scene in Singapore
Volunteerism during adolescence is viewed as the key to national education (Channel News Asia, 2006). Promoting volunteerism also helps in dealing with problems among adolescents as it diverts them away from the antisocial tendencies in youth culture in the direction of prosocial activities (Cheung, 2006). According to the Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) (2008), the rate of volunteerism rose from 15.2% in 2004 to 15.5% in 2006 to 16.9% in 2008 (NVPC, 2008). Therefore, there is an increasing trend of Singaporeans engaging in volunteerism. Volunteer participation rate is highest among the 15-24 age group (NVPC, 2008). Assuming that adolescence begins at 13 and ends at early 20s, volunteerism is the most prevalent among adolescents in Singapore. Additionally, when analysing the incidence of volunteers among respondents of different occupational statuses, students showed the highest current volunteer incidence, at 28%.
Unique to Singapore is the implementation of the Community Involvement Programme (CIP) on 1 October 1997 for secondary school students (ThinkQuest, 2006). CIP aims to educate local students and prepare our student populace to be active citizens by building their social cohesion and civil morality (ThinkQuest, 2006). While the students do not receive any monetary rewards, CIP contributes to a significant portion of one's Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) record which is reflected in one's transcripts. CIP is not considered to be voluntary work much as students do contribute to community through both fundraising and non-fundraising activities as it is obligatory and used to fulfil school requirements. But it is noteworthy that 30% of current volunteers started volunteering when they were studying in secondary school (NVPC, 2002). Therefore, the school plays an important role in encouraging volunteerism during adolescence in Singapore by being the institution where adolescents are exposed to the 'volunteerism culture'. The school provides a platform where young people can develop an identity apart from their family and an environment for adolescents to develop a sense of the larger community to which they belong (National Children's Advisory Council, 2006).
Despite the number of volunteers increasing, only 45 million volunteer hours were put in for 2008, compared to 49 million for 2006 (NVPC, 2008). This conveys that while more people are volunteering, they put in fewer volunteering hours or do so less regularly (SG Cares, 2009). This suggests a rising trend of occasional volunteering, which may not fit well into the original definition of volunteerism by Cemalcilar (2009). Therefore, there is a need to re-conceptualise the term 'volunteerism' to encompass this rising trend of short term and ad-hoc volunteering as well. This has implications for the type of strategic volunteering programs being offered by non-profit voluntary organisations to suit the needs of volunteers, attract potential volunteers and retain current volunteers.
Volunteerism during Adolescence, Identity Formation and Peer Groups
According to Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, adolescence is the time in which ego identity emerges through conflicts, and peer influence is at its strongest. Ego identity requires the adolescent to take what s/he has learned about life and him/herself, and mould it into a unified self-image, one that the community finds meaningful (as cited in Haski-Leventhal, Ronel, York & Ben-David, 2008). Adolescence is an important time to develop one's altruistic identity and to start working in and for the community (Haski-Leventhal, Ronel, York & Ben-David, 2008). Adolescence is also the stage where identity formation takes place and different activities are undertaken by adolescents to define oneself in terms of who s/he is and what s/he wants to be. For example, an adolescent who sees herself as a giving and helpful person might consider her community volunteer work to be self-defining (Haski-Leventhal, Ronel, York & Ben-David, 2008). The attitudinal and behavioural changes brought about by voluntarism become an integral part of the young person's identity (Cheung, 2006). Thus, volunteering during adolescence can be seen as an activity with high "attainment value" and providing a context that is conducive for acquiring the skills required for goal achievement (Palen & Coatsworth, 2007).
Additionally, researchers have discovered links between peer group formation, identity formation, and activity involvement during adolescence (Barber, 1999). The period of adolescence is known to be characterized by the vast importance given to the peers, and peers have both positive and negative effects on the adolescent individual. For example, Fine (1987) stressed how participation in Little League shapes both children's self-definition as a "jock" and their most salient peer group (as cited in Barber, 1999). As a result, adolescents who choose to volunteer shape how s/he defines her/himself and the types of peers to associate with. In turn, one's identity and peer group influence subsequent activity choices—creating a synergistic system that results in a particular kind of adolescence (Barber, 1999).
In Singapore, the top reason for not engaging in volunteering for adolescents aged 15-24 is the lack of friends for company (NVPC, 2004). On the other hand, literature on youth volunteering also highlights the importance of negative peer pressure as a barrier to volunteering (National Children's Advisory Council, 2006). Thus future research should examine if there is a bi-directional relationship between peers association and identity formation. On one hand, the type of peers one associates with will lead him/her to pursue activities that promote a particular kind of identity. On the other hand, how one defines him/herself will lead him/her to pursue particular activities and in turn, associate with peers who define themselves in the similarly and further solidifies his/her already existent identity.
Volunteerism during Adolescence and Motivations
According to Marta, Guglielmetti and Pozzi (2006), little is known about the psychological and social characteristics of adolescent volunteers in terms of motivations, effects of volunteering and the organizational context in which volunteering takes place. However, I acknowledge there is a limitation of how much researchers can infer about the underlying motivation and intention behind adolescents who volunteer. Display of the behaviour may not equalise the altruistic intention behind the behaviour, partly because adolescents are often coerced into volunteering by parents, teachers, and schools. So the conceptualisation of 'volunteerism' would have to be re-examined. While volunteering to fulfil school requirements is agreed not to be considered as volunteerism, the case is not as clear when adolescents volunteer for the sake of their parents or the religious organisation that they belong to. For religious affiliations, 'obligations' are not stated in black and white but exist in the form of moral obligations.
Although altruism is implicitly assumed in volunteerism, researchers have found other possible underlying motivations for actual engagement in philanthropic activities. According to the Volunteer Process Model developed by Omoto and Snyder (1995), motivations to volunteer can be categorised into six distinct factors: values, social, understanding, career, ego-motivation, self-enhancement, and community concern (as cited in Marta, Guglielmetti, & Pozzi, 2006). But these six factors may not be exclusive as there can be overlapping and simultaneous motivations when one volunteers. Also, as this model was created for young adults, replica studies need to be tested on adolescents and alter the factors when necessary. For example, the career factor can be replaced by peers as peers affect adolescents' decision to volunteer. This implies that the choice to begin and continue volunteering for each individual follows a pattern of intertwined and fluid motivations rather than by a single, static motivation (Marta, Guglielmetti, & Pozzi, 2006). Since literature suggests motivations can change over time and contexts, it is important to understand the assess volunteers' motivations periodically to better understand and suit their needs.
Since the motivations and the effects of voluntary action are different for each generation, Johnson, Beebe, Mortimer, and Snyder (1998) argue that the findings from research on adult and older volunteers cannot automatically be applied to adolescents (as cited in Marta, Guglielmetti, & Pozzi, 2006). The life stages in adolescence and adulthood differ in terms of life tasks and goals. Volunteers of different ages attach different meanings to volunteering and have different motivations to do it (Haski-Leventhal, Ronel, York, & Ben-David, 2008). As determinants of volunteering may be life-stage specific, future research should compare motivations behind adolescents who volunteer with adult and older volunteers'. This allows organisations to better draw up policies to attract and retain adolescent volunteers through to adulthood.
Furthermore, it is important for researchers to explore the interplay among specific self-oriented and others-oriented motivations rather than focusing merely on single motivation analysis. From the Survey on Individual Giving by NVPC (2004), current volunteers were asked to list their motivations for volunteering and the list included both self-oriented motivations and others-oriented motivations. Examining the interplay among self and others oriented motivations will provide more insight into the life-course development of adolescent volunteerism. Assessing the motivational pattern that guides adolescents is extremely important to understanding the phenomenon of volunteering during the transition to adulthood. It has been found that adults who have begun volunteering at adolescence are twice more likely to volunteer than those who did not volunteer when they were younger (Haski-Leventhal, Ronel, York, & Ben-David, 2008). Early engagement in the community is found to be of utmost importance in developing responsible and civically active adults (Marta, Guglielmetti, & Pozzi, 2006). Future longitudinal studies should also examine the reasons that adolescent volunteers continues volunteering and if there are any changes in motivational factors for individuals who never cease volunteering since adolescence to gain a life course perspective about long-term volunteerism.
Volunteerism during Adolescence and Attachment
A cross national study by Gillath et al. (2005) assessed attachment-style differences in engagement in voluntary altruistic activities in The Netherlands, USA, and Israel. Interestingly, the results were highly similar in all three countries (as cited in Erez, Mikulincer, Ijzendoorn, & Kroonenberg, 2008). Avoidant attachment was consistently associated with engaging in fewer volunteer activities and being involved for less altruistic reasons, whereas attachment anxiety was associated with more egoistic reasons for volunteering (Erez, Mikulincer, Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg, 2008). Therefore, egoistic motives can actually encourage highly attachment-anxious people to volunteer. This finding is differs from what researchers have always believed: People volunteer for altruistic reasons, with a genuine desire to help others in need.
While previous research has always supported that volunteering brings benefits to self and others, it may not be the case all the time. Crocker, Lee and Park (2004) suggest that costs may be involved when people pursue self-esteem by taking part in particular activities. For example, when good deeds are done by adolescent volunteers for the sake of increasing their self-esteem, this is seen as a self-focused need regardless of whether the person being helped appreciates it or not (Crocker, Lee & Park, 2004). When adolescent volunteers perform a good deed to raise his/her self-esteem, it may create a sense of superiority and distance, with the volunteer feeling superior to the beneficiary of help (Crocker, Lee & Park, 2004). Relating to Gillath's research, highly attachment-anxious youths engage in volunteerism for egoistic reasons; while they feel good about themselves, the true purpose of volunteerism are not achieved. Non-profit organisations should consider if they would want their volunteers to volunteer with such self-focused mindsets and whether retaining such volunteers will cause harm to the society.
With regards to youth volunteerism and attachment, future research should examine the potential mediators between avoidant attachment and inhibition of volunteerism to uncover the complicated mechanisms in between (Mikulincer, Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg, 2008). This will have implications for organisations, especially for those who are in charge of attracting and managing volunteers. This cross-cultural study implies the universality of the link between attachment styles and motivation for volunteering across countries of different cultures and more research should be conducted to confirm the generalisability of the findings. Furthermore, future research should go beyond surface issues, such as whether a particular type of youth will volunteer or not, to examining the underlying psychological processes of adolescent volunteers of different profiles and whether these affect volunteerism in terms of frequency, type of activity, length of volunteering, and impact on others who received help and effect on society ultimately.
Characteristics of Adolescent Volunteers
Amidst the limited empirical research on adolescent volunteerism, much existing literature focus on the characteristics of adolescent volunteers, especially their motivations and personality (Marta, Guglielmetti & Pozzi, 2006). Adolescent volunteers had significantly higher community belonging, social responsibility, and self-evaluations (esteem and concept) than non-volunteers at the time of the decision to volunteer (Cemalcilar, 2009). As compared to their peers, young volunteers are characterized by higher levels of self-esteem, optimism, and self-efficacy (Marta, Guglielmetti & Pozzi, 2006). On the other hand, previous research by Johnson (1998) and Lichter (2002) have shown that less well-adjusted adolescents are less likely to volunteer (as cited in Brown & Lichter, 2006). Also, disadvantaged adolescents may also be less likely to volunteer as adults because their parents were less likely themselves to serve as role models, teach them about the positive social value of procial activities, or encourage them to support civic activities (Brown & Lichter, 2006). Furthermore, many Muslim youth research participants stated that they would not undertake or continue volunteering if their parents and/or spouses are unsupportive (Volunteering Australia, 2007). As such, the family can be viewed as an important unit in promoting or restricting volunteerism for adolescents. In Singapore, the family is viewed as the fundamental socialising agent and thus, if volunteerism has beneficial effects on our citizens, governmental policies should promote volunteerism within the family in order to promote youth volunteerism.
An important point is racial differences were not found in Brown and Lichter's (2006) study. Supporting this finding, the Individual Giving Survey conducted by NVPC (2004) also found that race is no longer a factor in determining volunteerism. Studies found that their volunteer sample is more likely to be females (Cemalcilar, 2009), that women showed a higher inclination towards voluntary work (Lindenmeier, 2008) and that young women were more proactive in seeking out volunteering opportunities than young men. It may be likely there are gender differences in the underlying motivations behind volunteering. Prentice & Carlsmith (2000) found that men tend to favour instrumental attitudes and objects (as cited in Fletcher & Major, 2004), women tend to favour value-expressive concerns but Fletcher & Major (2004) found that women rated instrumental motives as high as did men and both genders rated altruistic motives highly. Gender differences in youth volunteerism in different contexts (e.g. occupation) have not been investigated in Singapore and should be examined.
However, students do benefit from civic participation even when they are mandated to participate: those who are less likely to volunteer benefit more than those who are already involved and an accumulation of these experiences may even compensate for any background differences and equalize opportunities for these disadvantaged students (Cemalcilar, 2009). Cemalcilar (2009) also found that even though adolescents with more positive psychological states are more likely to volunteer, when civic participation is introduced as a personal choice, this experience has only a limited effect on further enhancing their already positive characteristics. While Singaporean students are now giving more of their time and energy to social causes, despite the scrapping of compulsory participation in the CIP for junior college students two years ago (Channel News Asia, 2007), it is the students who are not volunteering once there is no obligation to do so whom we should be concerned about. All in all, it is imperative for the Singapore government and relevant agencies to target resistant and disadvantaged adolescents to develop their civic-mindedness and contribution to the society.
Directions for Future Research
Firstly, the definition of volunteerism has to be reconceptualised to be more applicable to current volunteerism trends. According to NVPC (2002), volunteers nowadays are seeking quality, and shorter-term opportunities which are time-specific and flexible. Thus, voluntary organisations ought to change their recruitment policies and offer more project-based programmes to attract new volunteers and retain current volunteers. In addition, I propose that volunteerism may be conceptualised in different levels in future research as the definition proposed by Cemalcilar (2009) may be too narrow and not applicable to the current society. Viewing volunteerism on a continuum varying in degrees of obligations, frequencies and motivations may help researchers understand the subject better and for easier comparison among the various volunteer profiles.
As noted, research on volunteerism during adolescence is limited and the majority of the existing literature focuses on adult and older volunteerism. Literature on the subject in Singapore is almost non-existent except for the biennial survey conducted by the NVPC. A major methodology limitation of existing research on volunteerism during adolescence is the use of correlational and cross-sectional design studies. However, current research are starting to use a variety of methods such as self-report measures, interviews and focus group discussion to avoid the problem of over-reliance on self-report measures. While different countries have different views about youth volunteerism, it appears that some of the findings from current youth volunteerism research can be generalised to other countries. Research by Gillath et al. (2005) found that the results were highly similar for their samples from Israel, The Netherlands, and the US. Furthermore, research by Brown & Lichter (2006) found no racial differences in volunteering. Therefore, I propose that more cross-cultural replica studies should be done to establish universal norms for youth volunteerism. If research finds that adolescents from different cultures share highly similar psychological process with regards to adolescent volunteerism, researchers should attempt to come up with a model to account for the psychology of adolescent volunteerism. On the other hand, different cultures and the social construction of society may view volunteerism differently. Comparing the US and Japan, volunteerism in Japan is seen more in terms of service and sacrifice whereas in the US, volunteerism in US is influenced by their religion that spread the message of "You gain more by giving through volunteering." (Imai, 2007)
Most research on volunteerism focused on adults, neglecting consideration of life-course variation in the factors that promote and constrain volunteer work (Oesterle, Johnson & Mortimer, 2004). From a life-course perspective, it is more crucial for more research to compare youth and adult volunteerism as existing research suggests that there are differences between youth and adult in terms of reasons for entering volunteering and barriers to volunteering due to their respective developmental phases. With regards to the outcomes of volunteerism, further studies are needed to examine the sustainability of voluntarism over time if volunteerism means long-term commitment and orientation to offering help to society (Cheung, 2006). Furthermore, not much literature has examined youths who are non-volunteers and potential volunteers. More research needs to be done to get a thorough understanding of their reservations towards volunteering so that practitioners and policy makers can develop appropriate strategies to recruit more adolescents who are able to help communities and benefit themselves.
Lastly, existing literature on youth volunteerism has focused mostly on the social circumstances and personal characteristics of the adolescent volunteers, but no research has examined the program characteristics and the extent of its benefits for the volunteers. It is possible that certain programs do not fit certain characteristics of adolescent volunteers or that certain type of activities benefits some volunteers more than the others. Future research should investigate the match between the volunteer and program characteristics. It will also be interesting to study if there are any differences in the dynamics when an adolescent volunteer offers his/her help to beneficiaries of different ages. Boundary and communication issues may arise from the differential statuses. In order to maximize the benefits for adolescent volunteers and clients, we need to better understand the features of youth volunteering, how different they are from adult volunteers, and what factors may enhance and sustain adolescent volunteering (Haski-Leventhal, Ronel, York, & Ben-David, 2008).
This status paper has reviewed the current research on the state, psychological and social factors related to volunteerism during adolescence; provided some directions for future research; and addressed the practical implications. More research is needed to understand more about this subject and fill in the gaps of existing literature. Adolescent volunteers are a population of research interest because they differ from adult and older volunteers in various ways. The importance of studying volunteerism during the early years of the life course rests in the fact that young people will be the middle-aged and older adults of the future (Oesterle, Johnson, Mortimer, 2004).
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