The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.
Recent studies reveal some disturbing trends. Rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse in adolescents are on the rise across all income brackets*; narcissism is on the rise and empathy on the decline among college students*; parental overemphasis of accomplishments rather than contribution and caring for others are leading to increases in depression, anxiety and drug use among our teens.*
Despite the best of intentions, it is so tempting to do too much for our children and emphasize their personal accomplishments rather than service to others. But in light of this research, this approach is clearly not serving our children.
Gratefully, Montessori education offers us a clear road map to a different way of thinking.
Dr. Montessori wrote, “He who is served is limited in his independence.” We can take this even further and say that children who are served are limited in their happiness. Children need opportunities to make meaningful contributions! Happiness comes not from ease but from having a greater sense of purpose and knowing that your contributions matter.
We must support our children in service of others. Showing up simply isn’t enough. We must give of ourselves – and make a difference in our communities to feel invested and connected.
At Greenspring Montessori, from the time the child is 18 months old, they are taught that they can make a real and marked difference in their communities and on each other. On a daily basis, our Toddlers and Children’s House students water plants, tend to our animals, set the tables, cut and arrange flowers, wash windows, and perform other classroom community roles that allow them to make a real difference in their classrooms.
Because our classrooms are multi-age, children understand what it means to be part of a community. Children have the opportunities to serve as role models to younger friends and give lessons to classmates. In a Montessori classroom, you may see a child helping a friend button a coat, pouring a classmate a glass of water, or holding the door for an adult.
Our Elementary and Adolescent students not only tend to their own classroom environments, but also take on tasks in the greater school community and expand their service into the greater Baltimore community. Older students care for the school’s chickens, serve on Safety Patrol, and oversee campus-wide composting. Their outreach to support our greater community is often child-initiated, such as a drive to tend to the animals in a shelter and the building of a butterfly pavilion at a local state park.
Why does this make a difference? Because, as research shows, the benefits of volunteerism include increased happiness, improved self-esteem, heightened positive affect, and enhanced well being.* Engaging in community service has been shown to reduce depression and increase positive emotions in adolescents.* It can even lower your cholesterol and blood pressure!* Altruistic behaviors, including large and small acts of kindness, raise feelings of self-worth.*
So with every act of service, our children are not only becoming happier, more fulfilled people, they are also raising their self-esteem. We are giving them the foundation for a life with meaning. What could be more important?
Works Cited/More Reading
Fu, Padilla-Walker & Brown. Longitudinal relations between adolescents’ self-esteem and prosocial behavior toward strangers, friends and family. Journal of Adolescence, 2017.
Harris Poll for The JED Foundation, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and The Jordan Porco Foundation. Students Who Feel Emotionally Unprepared for College More Likely to Report Poor Academic Performance and Negative College Experience. www.jedfoundation.org, 2015.
Kahana, Bhatta, Lovegreen, Kahana, & Midlarsky. Altruism, Helping, and Volunteering: Pathways to Well-Being in Late Life. Journal of Aging and Health, 2014.
Konrath, O’Brien, & Hsing. Changes in dispositional empathy in American college students over time. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2011.
Luthar & Sexton. Privileged but Pressured? A Study of Affluent Youth. Child Development, 2004.
Luthar & Latendresse. Children of the Affluent: Changes in Well-Being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2005.
Post, Stephen. Altruism, happiness, and health: It’s good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2005.
This article is sponsored by Greenspring Montessori School as part of our Cool School Partners series. Read more about Greenspring Montessori School in our Independent Schools Directory or call them at (410) 321-8555. Photos by Laura Black.