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Community Service Programs can be Beneficial for Adolescents

Update Date: Jul 24, 2014 01:28 PM EDT

Community service programs are created to teach the youth about different aspects of giving back to one's community. In a new study, researchers from Utrecht University in The Netherlands and Rutgers University in the United States analyzed the effects of participating in these programs. The team concluded that community service has great benefits, especially if the program requires the youth to reflect and discuss their actions.

For this study, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 49 studies that were conducted throughout the world from 1980 to 2012. There were a total of 24,477 participants between the ages of 12 and 20. The term reflection was defined as guided, structured or deliberate thinking in regards to community service activities.

The researchers discovered that participating in community service yielded a positive effect on all outcomes studied. These outcomes were academic, personal, social and civic. The team added that when reflection was a part of the service program, children experienced even greater benefits. Furthermore, when the reflection process was integrated into the school's academic program, the researchers noticed that children were more aware of the meaning behind their volunteer work.

Children who participated in community service more, measured by hours, and reflected more about their activities yielded the most benefits. The average participation time in this study was 65 hours over the span of 28 weeks. The youth reflected 24 times over 28 weeks.

"This indicates that it's important for community service activities to be complemented by opportunities for reflection," researchers, A. J. van Goethem, a post-doctoral researcher at the Research Institute of Child Development and Education at Utrecht University of Amsterdam, and Daniel Hart, professor of psychology and childhood studies at Rutgers University, stated according to the press release.

The study, "The Role of Reflection in the Effects of Community Service on Adolescent Development: A Meta-Analysis," was published in the journal, Child Development.

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