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The Benefits of an Altruistic Adolescent

We have all heard the saying, “It is better to give than to receive,” but did you know giving back can also better your self-esteem and mental health, particularly in teens? The Journal of Adolescence published a recent study of 681 American youths ages 11-14 on how generosity affected their levels of self-esteem. Throughout the three-year study, participants were asked to evaluate themselves using a set of 10 statements including, “I feel useless at times” and “I am satisfied with myself.” These kinds of statements were used to assess the participants’ self-esteem levels throughout the study.

They were also asked to reflect on their prosocial behavior by choosing from affirmations such as, “I help people I don’t know, even if it’s not easy for me,” “I go out of my way to cheer up my friends,” and “I really enjoy doing small favors for my family.”

What researchers found was that the teens that showed generosity to a stranger versus a peer or family members saw a much higher rate of self-esteem with effects that lasted up to a year.

“A unique feature of this study,” explains the study’s author, Professor Padilla-Walker of Brigham Young University, “is that it explores helping behaviors toward multiple different targets. Not all helping is created equal, and we’re finding that prosocial behavior toward strangers is protective in a variety of ways that is unique from other types of helping.”

She suggests that parents help enable teenagers to make the service of others a priority. Focusing on another person’s needs and problems could be particularly beneficial for those youths who are too self-absorbed or simply overwhelmed by the confusing transition from childhood to young adulthood.

“It is best if teens can directly see the benefit of their help on others,” said Padilla-Walker. “This can increase gratitude in young people and help them to focus less on their own problems.”

While the holiday season is coming to an end, continuing the spirit of giving year-long is a great way to improve self-esteem, mental health, while helping those in need.


Jill Hamilton, Senior Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been a Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Speech Communication Minor from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and The Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.