I have Natalie Silverstein, an author, consultant, nonprofit founder, and passionate advocate for family and youth service on today’s show.
Her latest book, Simple Acts: The Busy Teens Guide to Making a Difference, was created to help adolescents and teens discover their passion and purpose through acts of kindness and service to others.
She believes you don’t need to change the world to make a big impact. Even the smallest stone thrown into the water creates a ripple. Teens CAN make a meaningful difference – one simple act at a time.
Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed.
What You Will Learn:
- The importance of our teens connecting with other human beings and looking outside their problems.
- How to encourage your teens to use their favorite sport or interest or talent as an opportunity to give back to others.
- Cultivating a service-minded family.
- Every single thing that kids love to do in their free time can be translated into a way to give back to the community.
- How volunteering improves our mental and emotional health.
- The benefits of volunteering on your teen’s college applications – specifically volunteering from a place of giving back, not because “they have to.”
- Why you should be making time for service as a family.
- What difference is giving back making in teens’ lives?
Where to find Natalie:
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And here is the episode typed out!
Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.
Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.
I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.
Research shows that teens and young adults that serve and find meaningful ways to help others have greater life satisfaction, more happiness, and less depression than those of their peers. It can change their lives.
On today’s show, I have Natalie Silverstein, an author, consultant, nonprofit founder, and passionate advocate for family and youth service.
Her latest book, Simple Acts: The Busy Teens Guide to Making a Difference, was created to help adolescents and teens discover their passion and purpose through acts of kindness and service to others.
She believes you don’t need to change the world to make a big impact. Even the smallest stone thrown into the water creates a ripple. Teens CAN make a meaningful difference – one simple act at a time. And Natalie will share with us how to encourage our kids to want to give back.
Let’s dive in!
SHERYL: Welcome, Natalie, to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. I’m so happy to have you come to the show.
NATALIE: Thank you so much, Sheryl. It’s such a pleasure to be with you. I love that you cover tweens and teens. It’s my sweet spot. That’s fantastic. Thanks for having me.
SHERYL: Oh, you’re so welcome. Yes, I mean, tweens and teens, it starts in the tween years. That’s why we’re tweens and teens because all these things start changing depending on how mature. Everything’s changing.
NATALIE: I don’t know if you’ve heard this phrase recently that’s been developed in psychological circles that they’re saying now that 19 to 24 is actually emerging adulthood. So when you and I were growing up, it was just teenagers, right? But now we have tweens, teens, and emerging adults. So keep an eye out for that.
SHERYL: Yeah, emerging adults.
NATALIE: Exactly. I don’t know about you. But I was an adult when I was 21. But apparently, you’re not an adult anymore when you’re 24.
SHERYL: Yeah, that could be a whole other podcast.
NATALIE: Exactly. Let’s just keep pushing it out to about 50.
SHERYL: We just don’t want them to be an emerging adult still living in the basement. Try to get him out of the nest.
So I’m excited to share your book with the moms and caregivers that are listening. You just released your latest book called “Simple Acts, a Busy Teen’s Guide to Making a Difference.” I love that. Spock is thanking you. It’s got so many great ideas. Moms, you’re gonna love to hear all the amazing ideas that Natalie has to share with us.
But you wrote this during the pandemic. I want you to tell a little backstory about how you got into like philanthropy and helping teenagers and families to give back and make a difference in the world. And also a little of your history and about writing the book.
NATALIE: So my career was in healthcare, I have a master’s in public health, and I worked for hospitals and managed care companies. I love that work. But after my third child was born, I now have three kids. They are 21, 19, and feel 14 – almost 15. So I have two emerging adults and a teenager.
After the third one was born, I ended up staying home with her – with all three of them. And the work really grew out of my own personal experience. As a parent, we live in New York City, which is a city of just tremendous wealth and tremendous need, a wide variety of people, and lots and lots of social service organizations.
I was a little frustrated as a parent of young children that there weren’t a lot of organizations that would accept us as volunteers. I think all of your listeners will have had that experience. You want to go on Thanksgiving morning to a food pantry or a soup kitchen. And you’re told that your children need to be 12 years old, 15 years old, or 18 years old.
So it is hard to find family-friendly volunteer opportunities, even here in New York. So I ended up partnering up with something called Doing Good Together. That’s an organization in Minneapolis that is just a wonderful resource. Their mission is to help parents raise kids who care and contribute. It’s just this beautiful, elegant mission statement.
I reached out to the founder. And she was delighted. She’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve been looking for people like you across the country who can pick up my mission and incorporate it into your community.” So I curate a listing of family-friendly volunteer opportunities here in New York City. And I’ve been doing that for almost a decade as a volunteer. I became the Rolodex not to age myself, but I became the resource for our community of places to donate, places to volunteer, and things to do with kid’s events.
I really started to curate all of the family-friendly volunteer opportunities. I realized pretty quickly that everyone wanted this information. They just didn’t even know where to begin. And if we’re being honest, they didn’t want to take the time to figure it out.
So as I start sharing my resources as I start speaking to groups, synagogues, churches, Girl Scout troops, Brownie troops, you name it, Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids. It occurs to me there’s a book here, and I’m a writer. I’ve always enjoyed writing and various forms of communication. I think I could write something that would be useful. A prescriptive resource guide that’s really actionable with lists. Ways for people to break it down and make it super simple and incorporated into really busy lives.
Because, at the end of the day, that’s what this is about. This should not be another chore on your list of things to do. So my first book came out in 2019. I found a publisher that was excited about it. It was called Simple: The Busy Families Guide to Giving Back. And that just took off. I was on the Today Show, and I got to be on podcasts with wonderful people like you and just really spread this message.
It’s not rocket science. I didn’t invent the wheel here, but sort of talking about ways to incorporate service into birthday parties and other family milestones and holiday traditions. And it’s super simple. It’s just being mindful and being intentional about it. And really, just keep it up at the top of your mind as you move through your day. And it’s the way that you role model your values for your children is by living your values.
And so immediately, the day that that book came out, I had people come over to me and say, “Oh, this is wonderful. But why don’t you write one for teenagers because I have teenagers at home? And they’re the worst.” And I get it. I have teenagers at home. And it was the spring of 2019. I’m like, let me enjoy this moment, this book that I published for a minute, and I for sure will write a teen one.
I had to switch publishers because of the nature of the publishing industry. I signed a contract in the winter of 2019 into 2020. I signed the contract that asked me to write the book from March 1, 2020, until June 1, 2020. So we all know how that story ends.
It was a fraught time in New York City as it was everywhere. And if I’m being honest, if you read the prologue, the introductory introduction to the book, I kind of lost my heart a little bit. I wasn’t sure if everyone cared. I didn’t know if this work mattered itself felt like a very soft subject.
I think you can agree that in March, in those very dark early days, I was like, I don’t even know if this is important to do. And then it occurred to me, over weeks and months of being isolated and figuring out what we could do to connect to other human beings to help others. I started looking for “the helpers,” as Mr. Rogers always says, and I became re-inspired.
I realized that this work, this perspective, this stuff that I talked about, and I love talking about with people like you, this is more important than ever, more important than ever. So figuring out a way to connect to other people figuring out a way to improve the society that we live in to help to make our world better and stronger to be hopeful and optimistic. This work is more important than ever.
So I finished the book. Fast forward, it takes a couple of years nowadays, supply chain, and this second book for teens came out in July. And this one is really written for tweens to teens, and I tried really hard not to be preachy or naggy.
I think we can all agree on this podcast that the last thing tweens and teens need is another adult telling them what to do and that they should care about other people. I wanted it to just lay out the facts of what service can do for you as a person and what you can gain from doing for others because the giver gets as much as the receiver, sometimes more. And make it easy.
Make it super, super easy for teens and tweens to embrace this work, but also to tap into their passions and the things they’re good at and their gifts and their strengths and how they can share those with the world and why they should care. And it came out in July. And here I am, and I’m just super excited to talk about it.
SHERYL: Oh, I was so inspired reading it. I was telling you – you sent me the PDF version. And I ordered a copy because I thought I had to get this because it was so inspiring. What I was struck by in the foreword is how you talked about how we’re still bombarded with negative news.
All the things that are going wrong and it’s easy to get sucked into that and feel despair. I love the vision of we can make a difference. Absolutely. And getting outside of ourselves. We can sit and complain and focus on the negative, or we can go out there and make a difference.
You also say how we are more alike. We are different. Of course, we like to bring unity, like getting all the benefits, just getting to know different people, and stepping out and being able to serve people and see the humanity that connects us all.
NATALIE: Well, first of all, I absolutely agree with what you’ve said. If we all sit back and say, “well, everything is terrible. There’s nothing I can possibly do.: Then, for sure, we’re not going to be able to do anything. It’s breaking it down into smaller pieces. There is something every single person can do. Every small action has an impact. Even the tiniest stone thrown into the water makes a ripple.
This is sort of obvious. But when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the problems in the world, and this is my worry about the mental health of our tweens and teens right now, it feels very heavy, it feels very hopeless. And it feels very overwhelming. I think that getting out of your own head, this is scientifically proven, that if you stop thinking about yourself and gazing at your own navel, and you start to look at your neighbor and how you might help someone else and make a connection with another human being, you will absolutely, I promise you will feel better about yourself and your problems.
And you will feel more hopeful and more optimistic. And we saw that throughout the pandemic. This is what I tried to tell teens: stop sitting and looking at your device, just scrolling, scrolling, Doom scrolling. As they say, if you look outside of yourself and keep eyes, ears, hearts, and minds open to the needs of others, it will make you a kinder, gentler, happier person, and your physical, mental and emotional health will improve.
I promise you, I guarantee it. The mission of the book is to help everybody see. As Arthur Ashe said, “start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.” No one is expecting you to solve it. There’s that expression from the time that no one expects you to finish the work. But you still have to begin; you have to be engaged in it. And that’s what I hope that teens take from this and that they’re inspired by it. To get out there and do something, anything, anything.
SHERYL: And I think that as a mom, myself, and for the listeners, we get bogged down, we’re like, “oh my gosh, my kid doesn’t want to do anything. They only want to be on their phone. They’re not motivated. I try to get them to do something and help out but they don’t want to do it.” Or, “I’ll just have him do it. Because it looks good on the college application.” We have that too, which isn’t a bad thing.
NATALIE: No, I’m not going to be cynical about that. I’m being honest; I know that people might be purchasing my book because they’re thinking, “oh, my kid really hasn’t engaged in a lot of service activities, especially over the pandemic, for obvious reasons. And this is important. This is something that you want to show scholarship applications, college applications, and job interviews.”
But I would like to flip the narrative on that I think that this work provides kids, teens, and tweens an opportunity to again have their minds expanded, to see the world through the eyes and the experience of others. And it gives them stories to tell. It connects them to the lived experience of other people.
And so if you’re being asked to write an essay about who fundamentally you are, you’re sharing with a college or with a job or with a grant, whatever it is, whom you are telling a story about something that you’ve learned a value that you’ve gained through service is meaningful, not just I volunteered for three weeks at the food pantry.
No, you’re not saying it that way. You’re talking about the experience of doing what you learned, what you gained, and, more importantly, the human interaction, the connections that you made with other people. And these are perhaps the stories that you have listened to and incorporated into your understanding of the world.
I like to say, “don’t count the hours. Make the hours count.” Because of all of our kids, many schools make teenagers do service to check a box so they can graduate. Let’s okay. That might be a requirement. And that’s okay. Let’s flip the narrative on that.
I addressed that straight on in the book for kids. I say instead of complaining about that, let’s look at it as an opportunity to figure out what you’re passionate about, what your gifts, talents, and skills are, what you’re good at, and the issues that you care about out in the community. And then how can we marry those two things and find organizations that would benefit from your help?
I guarantee you as a parent. Everyone’s like this is just a burden, another thing on their plate. If you find something that lights your kid up when they walk out of there, they are lit up with excitement about how much fun they had or how meaningful it was or the impact they felt like they made, or the connections they made, and they will want to go back.
And it’s even better if they do it with other kids, the social interaction of doing it with other people, and bringing friends along as well. So that’s really the goal here. That’s the whole key of the assessment at the front of the book. What are you good at? What are your talents? What are the issues you care about? What are you angry about? What are you worried about? How can we combine those two things? And then how can you go out into the world and help fix it?
SHERYL: Yeah, I love that part of the book. Moms: there’s a self-assessment. And I think that that is very powerful because this is helping our kids to learn about themselves in the process. Like, what do I love to do? What am I passionate about? How am I wired? There was a part in there where you talked about, am I shy? How do I take in criticism or feedback?
Helping them to become more self-aware of themselves and then what they love to do, because I do find that, as parents, it’s easy to focus on the things our kids aren’t doing, or the things they are doing that are irritating, or, their math grade and getting the math grade up versus what lights you up and helping them to get in touch with that to get outside of themselves. And be able to feel that power they have inside of themselves, that I can help to influence change.
NATALIE: Yeah, absolutely. The surest way to ensure that a kid is going to want to continue to do this work is to find work that they enjoy, that they connect to, and that resonates for them. And that taps into their interests and their passions and something that they enjoy doing and something they’re interested in, as you know, this isn’t about having them do their schoolwork.
It’s much more if they’re a great reader and they don’t like math. If they’re not going to want to read for English class, they’re not going to want to do their math. So it’s the same perspective if your kid is into sports. I promise you there is a way that that child can go out into the community and use their love of sports, their passion for whatever game it is that they like to play, and share it with others in a meaningful way.
I have a little side thing that I do where people call me or email me and say, “I have a child.” I just got a call the other day from a dad who has a sixth-grader who plays squash. Loves squash. I don’t know anything about this game. “How can he give back to the community with the game of squash?” “Well, I bet I bet the equipment is very expensive. What if he started to drive where he plays to gather the equipment so that when people want to donate that if it’s gently used, then maybe he set up a program in a local school after school to teach kids how to play squash, maybe he can ask where he plays if they’ll donate some time in the courts there.
He could do a fundraiser playing squash. There are ways he can take his passion for squash, and he can substantively give back to his community, probably to other kids like himself. The easiest way to get a kid to want to go out and volunteer with other little kids who love to play basketball is to tell them they can teach kids how to play basketball.
Dance, music, if someone’s a great reader, if someone doesn’t, they love to draw, if they’re a knitter, if they’re a baker, every single thing that kids love to do in their free time, all of those things can be translated into a way to give back in the community.
Those are the types of ideas that I list out in the book, I didn’t invent this, you’re cooking, you’re baking cookies already, maybe you bake some extra, and you wrap them up, and you take them to the local senior center, or the fire department or the police station, with a note or something. This is just thinking about ways to organically, seamlessly, and mindfully incorporate this work into your daily lives.
I think when you set it up that way, for kids and teens, it doesn’t feel as daunting. It doesn’t feel like, “Oh, I gotta get my paper signed, they always have the paper from school. I need the hours to sign my paper.” We need to get rid of that narrative. This needs to be what brings them joy, what lights them up, and then help them find a way to do that. And I promise you. They’ll have more than 50 hours or whatever number of hours they need to graduate.
SHERYL: I’m sitting here thinking, I know for my kids, I would feel we did different things like the Christmas Child that our church actually did. That was a highlight, we would go, and we’d buy toothbrushes, and I can’t remember if it’s called Christmas project or Christmas Child, something like that. And we did different things. I remember feeling overwhelmed by it. And like, “it’s just one more thing I must do.” But I was struck by, even in the book, during the pandemic. You thought, let’s order a pizza. Who did you order it for?
NATALIE: We have a good friend who’s a chief of an emergency room. So that’s a really tough job that she was doing during a very difficult time here in New York City. And so I heard that there was a food train that gets set got set up because people were working crazy hours. It wasn’t a normal shift situation.
So we would literally sign up to send pizzas to the emergency room where our friend was the chief of medicine. But again, these are such little things. My daughter is a knitter, and she knits scarves and hats. We were giving them to a senior center, and my other daughter made fleece blankets because we have all this leftover fleece for some reason, where you cut, you’ve seen this, it’s like a square, and you cut little strips, and then you deliver them to the ASPCA to the shelter.
Of course, at that point, there were no dogs in the shelter because everybody went to take the dogs home. But, these were just things to keep hands busy. And to keep us from dying of boredom. There are only so many movies you can watch and loaves of bread you can bake. But we would find these little things that we could do in the community, to just show our love and support and gratitude for the first responders for the folks who are delivering the food.
If you couldn’t find a way to give back in the pandemic, even remotely, even from your homes, even just connecting with people via zoom or writing letters to isolated elders. There was a lot of stuff that you could do, but you had to wake up in the morning and say, “Okay, what is my purpose today?”
This is what we’re all looking for. I’ve got to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. And things are looking pretty bleak. In March, April, May June 2020. Well, what can we do to make ourselves feel a little bit better? And in those instances, it was baking or sending the pizzas or doing knitting or doing whatever the thing was, it just got us through, and so I agree with you, back to your original point, sometimes it’s overwhelming, particularly at the holidays.
Suppose you’re talking about Christmas Child, or the cookie swap, or whatever. If you try and pull this back to its basics, you know, what is the holiday season about, and engage your kids in a conversation around, what is this? Not just what are we going to get? But what are we going to give? And how can we make the holidays brighter for other people and don’t stress ourselves out?
I’ve got to check the box of the charitable giving, but a way to sort of seamlessly incorporate this into the shopping that you’re already doing, the baking that you’re already doing, whatever it is, and really give your kids the opportunity to see you thinking about this and engage them in it. This is super important.
All of this work, going out and working in the community, doing this work at home, give your kids agency, let them have input into what it is that you’re doing, whom it’s benefiting. And, if you go out and do something in the community, let’s say on Thanksgiving, talk about it afterward. Have a conversation. What did you love about that? What made you feel uncomfortable? Did you enjoy that kind of work? Could we do you want to go back there to the food pantry in the new year? Or should we continue to work there? Is there something else that you’d like to do? What are the issues? What are the social justice issues that you care about? Is hunger not one of the things that you’re super passionate about? Have you rather thought about something like giving them the opportunity to have some input? And it’s just going to feel like less of a chore and more of a joy?
SHERYL: Yeah, asking them the question. I’d love that. Like, “Okay, what could we do? If we’re baking these cookies, we give some extra cookies to someone.”
NATALIE: It’s not a yes or no. It’s not like, Should we do this? No, we’re doing this. I get this question all the time from parents of teens, especially tweens and teens. How do you get your kid to want to do this? First of all, we make our kids do lots of things like get up in the morning, brush their teeth, do their homework, and go to school. Or do their chores like, this a part of what we are teaching them?
This is how we live. This is how our family engages with the world. So we are going to do some services weekend, or we have this opportunity to do some service. What would you like to do? It’s just like when they were little, you know, these are the two outfits, do you want this one or that? And it’s not letting them go into the closet and pick anything they want.
It’s “we’re doing it. But let me hear what you think. What’s your input? What interests you about this?” What we’re going to engage in this weekend, and then talk about it afterward? And allow them to give some feedback if something makes a kid very uncomfortable. Maybe interacting with the elderly is not their thing. That takes a certain kind of temperament.
Okay, that’s fine. We don’t have to do that. But let’s think about something else that we can do. This isn’t a choice of doing it or not doing it. We’re doing it. We make lots of time. Let’s all be very honest here. As parents of tweens and teens, we prioritize and make lots of time for lots of things, lots of soccer, lots of hockey, lots of dance, and lots of tutoring. We can prioritize this. And by doing so, we are living our values and showing our kids what’s really important to our family.
SHERYL: Oh, gosh, that’s so good. This is a value. This is a part of our lives that we give back.
NATALIE: That’s right. This is just who we are as a family. This is how we are as a family. Well, at the end of the day, how do you want your family to be remembered? How do you want your children to remember the things that you all did as a family? I promise you. They’re not going to remember the Lego set that they got for Christmas, or the Barbie doll, or even the trip to Disney that you saved and saved and planned and made yourself crazy. They’re not going to remember that. They’re going to remember going to the soup kitchen every Thanksgiving morning and serving a Thanksgiving meal to others who are less fortunate. And then going home and enjoying Thanksgiving together.
And being grateful for that and having empathy for people who don’t have a place to have Thanksgiving and that you provide that for them. And if you do that every year, that’s creating a habit of service. These traditions around holidays around birthdays; you do this consistently year after year. That becomes their experience. Those are the memories that are going to have into adulthood. And when they raise their own families, because that’s the end game. They’re not going to remember that soccer tournament.
SHERYL: Oh, yeah. Well, and stuff just wears out. And then we want the next thing. And yet giving back is so life-giving. Talk about the research. What does the research show in the difference it’s making in teens’ lives? You just started a podcast interviewing teens on your show.
NATALIE: Yeah, just teenagers. Very short, short, and sweet. These are teen changemakers. I call them fundraisers, nonprofit founders, volunteers, social activists, and social entrepreneurs, and they get all lit up.
I just want to hear them tell their story. What inspired them to start this activity? What have they done? How many people have they helped? What are their plans for the future? What challenges do they face? What did they learn? Kids just get lit up telling me these stories. And it’s incredible. It’s 15 minutes or 18 minutes. I leave those conversations so inspired.
I hope others will listen and be inspired as well. But the research is super detailed on this. And there are longitudinal studies. There was one out of Harvard called Making Caring Common. That was like a 20-25 year longitudinal study. It is undisputed, scientifically proven, that volunteering for others makes you feel better.
You are less depressed, less lonely, and more connected. Volunteers live longer. There is a direct correlation to longevity. Teens who volunteer are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. And those can be defined as early sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use, less likely to drop out of school, teens who volunteer, and again.
I have a public health background. So you might say, “Oh, well, it’s skewed because it’s only well-off kids that do this.” Nope. Even if you take socioeconomic status out of the picture, even amongst teens who are considered at risk, volunteering has all of these benefits, less likely to engage in risky behaviors, more likely to stay in school, and more likely to do better academically. Right off the bat, I’m pretty sure those are things that your audience cares about pretty deeply.
So right there, you don’t need to hear anymore. Volunteering makes you feel better and makes you do better in the world. Teens who volunteer with their families and children and teens who volunteer with their family unit are much more likely to do so as adults with their own families. For teens who volunteer with friends, there is sort of this positive peer pressure. If you will, they are more likely to volunteer to continue want to volunteer because it’s a social activity.
Now, this is all the stuff that we’ve been talking about. Right there, by every measure, volunteering is good for your mental, physical, and emotional health. I don’t know why we wouldn’t give this to our kids. Yeah, it gives their life purpose and meaning. Absolutely. 1,000%.
SHERYL: Yeah, we all want to matter and bring value and make an impact. So much of the world now is it’s external. All of the social media doesn’t fill you up.
NATALIE: Right, right. And there’s this feeling of being a helper. It’s been scientifically proven. It’s sort of an endorphin rush that comes to the brain. It is this physiologically good feeling that washes over you. Everyone can relate to this, you do something nice for another person, you help someone, and they express gratitude towards you, or they smile at you. And even if they don’t, if you know that you substantively help someone else, you change the course of their day, and you get a jolt of a good feeling of an endorphin rush.
It’s just like a runner’s high, as they say. Why would you not want that? That feels like a really healthy drug to me. That’s a drug that you want your teens to have. And the more you do it, this is why the longevity piece comes in, right? People who consistently volunteer for years and years and years live longer, feel better, feel less lonely, and less isolated.
There is an epidemic of loneliness. I actually heard Dr. Ruth Westheimer speak before the pandemic; God bless her; she is still alive in her 90s. And she said her next book, and she wrote all these books about sexuality. Her next book is about the epidemic of loneliness and how we are a society that feels so connected because we have these devices in our hands that make us feel like we’re so connected. And yet we are so disconnected from one another really meaningfully.
And back to what I said earlier, that this is the number one best way to connect to other people is to get out there with the folks that you’re helping and be in the community and learn about the issues and feel really good about helping somebody else.
Get through the day, and maybe make their burden lighten their burden just a little bit. So you know, the science is super clear. I shouldn’t need to convince anybody that this is a good idea. But it seems like sometimes, it’s a nice thing, or it’s just a little, and it’s going to be the last thing on your kid’s list of activities on their college applications.
No, I disagree. I think that this is really one of the most important activities that our kids can engage in. And you know that these are the stories that they will want to tell in a college interview or something. It’s not about the touchdown that they scored or the medal that they earned. It will be about this. And because that gets to the heart of who they are as human beings and what they will bring to a workplace, to a college campus, etc.
SHERYL: Yeah. Oh, gosh, it’s just beautiful. Natalie, tell our listeners how they can get your book and how they how can they use it to help their kids to want to give back. I think your book is just a great resource. I don’t know what to call it, but to get your kid tapped into what they can do.
NATALIE: Absolutely. Well, first of all, I don’t think force is a good thing. So buying it and having it on the table, I’ve had friends tell me they just sort of leave it out. And then the kid picks it up and flips through it. It’s not meant to be read from start to finish, from page one to page 150, or whatever it is. Each chapter is its own sort of topic.
So there’s a chapter on social entrepreneurship if that’s something that they’re curious about. How do you start a company that has some element of social good incorporated into it? How have they informed consumers about that?
If you’re in Starbucks, and you see that there are two bottles of water, think about the choice to choose the bottle of water that gives back to the community in some substantive way. There are companies that have this as foundational to their mission.
And so really teaching these kids that they have this consumer power, so maybe you have a conversation about that when you’re on the store, and they’re like, “oh, you know, there’s a chapter about that Natalie’s book.”
You mentioned the self-assessment. I just think that’s a really wonderful tool, and if your kid is open to it, I think starting off with that. You’re not forcing them to read it right now and figure out what you’re going to do, and you have to volunteer in the community.
But it could be a situation where you say, “we, as a family, I think we’re going to make a commitment in this new year, whatever it is, or as you begin high school, or as you begin your senior year, whatever it is, we’re going to make a commitment to try and do a little bit more service in the community. So I need your help. I need you to help me figure out what that looks like for our family, both in terms of fitting in into our schedule and what is really going to resonate for all of us, what’s going to light us all up, what’s going to make us have fun and enjoy the time. So I’d really love to hear what you think if you go through this assessment. What are the things that you want to share? What are your gifts and skills, and strengths? What do you like to do? And then I’m curious, like, what are the issues that you care about in the community in the world, abroad, at large? And then let’s think together. Let’s sit down together at the computer.”
Of course, I have a lot of resources in the book, but I often say, “Okay, now you’re going to Google that together. And you’re going to do a little research. What are the organizations in your community that is effecting change in that area?” And then, of course, the book will have national organizations and international organs, organizations that you can tap into.
I think you just use it as a conversational tool, like a conversation starter. And then, of course, if your child comes home and says, “I have been told that I have to finish 40 hours before I graduate in order to graduate, what am I going to do?” You’re going to say, “I have this book. And it might sort of spark something for you. “
That’s what it’s about. It’s sort of lighting the flame – just igniting this little flame, that they might have an idea, or they have a club that needs to do a fundraiser. There’s a whole chapter where I list out tons and tons of fundraiser ideas. This is not rocket science. I didn’t come up with the carwash.
I talk about different ideas and different options. And maybe you can think about this, and maybe you can think about that. So they come home, and they say, “my Model UN club needs to raise money. So we’re just going to sell candy bars.
“Maybe we could think of something else. So let’s look at the fundraising chapter and Natalie’s book. Maybe there was another idea in here of a fun, different kind of fundraiser that you can ask the school if you guys can do that.” I just think kids have limitless energy. And if you just steer them in the direction and share this as a potential source of ideas and not be like, “Here, read this right now. We have to do service.” It will help them inevitably. Something in here will spark something for them. And then from there, they just fly from there on their own.
SHERYL: Yeah, I love how you have all the ideas at the end of the book.
NATALIE: My publisher did the cross-referencing and the indexing, and I was like, Wow, I’m glad I didn’t have that job.
SHERYL: Yeah, there are 52 intentional ways to spread kindness in your life.
NATALIE: I like to say there are no such things as random acts of kindness. I know that’s a big phrase. I don’t think anything’s random. I think everything’s intentional. If you walk through a doorway and let the door slam in the face of the person behind you. That was an absent-minded thing, but intentionally holding the door for the person behind you. That’s not a random act of kindness. That’s intentional. That is walking through your days with your eyes open to the needs of others.
That’s all it is. This is stuff that I hope people start to do with their kids in their own homes and as they move through the world. I just hope it is something that can be used as part of these conversations that you’re already having with your kids. I promise you; they are going to come home from school one day and say, “I need to do hours. I want to do hours, and my friend is doing this thing that I want to do.” And there’s your entry. There’s an opening for you to start that conversation.
SHERYL: Yeah, I’d love it. I think it’s such a great gift. Thanksgiving will be upon us for those that are in the US. The holidays are coming upon us. It’s a great book. On the website, you have all the resources to be able to say, “hey, let’s pick one right now. Here’s a bunch of ideas.”,
NATALIE: It’s not a matter of whether we’re going to do it. It lets you get to choose which one you do.
SHERYL: Exactly. We don’t even give it an option. We’re going to do something.
NATALIE: Pick something that you’re going to enjoy doing. And then we’ll have a good time.
SHERYL: I know you have very small ideas, too, like you said, opening up the door. It’s like a snowball effect. You start thinking like that if we’re looking for it.
NATALIE: It’s this whole Pay It Forward idea. So much of this goes around social media. So this is not rocket science to these kids. But you pay for the toll for the person behind you on the highway. It makes their day or puts some change in or pays for the coffee if the person behind you is in the coffee shop.
I just think kids need to see you doing those things. And then they’ll pick up on it, and then they’ll do it, and then that will change their whole lives.
I’ll just finish by telling you a story of a friend whose son is in college in New Jersey. And he called her in the middle of the night. So that’s always a good one. Getting that phone call. It was very, “oh, my God, John, what happened? Where are you? Are you in jail? What happened?”
He said that he was out at a bar, he is legal, he was out at a bar with friends, and they were walking home. And they ran into a man on a bridge or a footbridge who looked really upset and sad. And they went over, and they sat with him a bit. And they chatted with him. And he said to them something like, “I was thinking about taking my own life tonight, but you guys stopping and seeing me and spending time talking with me and asking me what’s up has really given me some hope, and I’m going to go back home and think about and be with my family.”
And he was crying. He called his mother. He was sobbing. It raises the issue that every single person wants to be seen and heard, and understood. And many, many people right now, I think, are suffering and feeling very lonely. And if your kid can have that experience, of really seeing another person, and their experience, and what their lived experience is like, and how they look at the world and what’s going on for them in the world, if they can see that and incorporate it into their experience and know that they made a tiny bit of a difference for that person. I just think it will occur to them how important this work is.
SHERYL: Oh, absolutely. What a beautiful story. They came just at the right time to talk to this man. What a difference those little acts of kindness. We never know.
NATALIE: It was that expression, be kind always because you don’t know the burden that the other person is carrying. That’s true for every single human being that you interact with every single day. So your smile, you hold the door, and you start a chat, saying good morning, you just don’t know how your actions are going to impact the other person’s life, and it could change their day, their week, their year, their life. And again, it’s very simple, small things. He just spoke to him. He didn’t give him money. He didn’t give him a ride. Very simple, very, very simple acts. That’s it. There we are.
SHERYL: Kindness. Yeah. Well, Natalie, thank you so much for the difference that you’re making in so many lives and just spreading kindness and this message and helping us to be more intentional. Think about these things and how we can model them for our kids. Giving them the book and looking at ourselves and taking the assessment ourselves learn about ourselves.
NATALIE: I had someone ask me recently, “what’s your next book going to be? Why don’t you write one for adults?” Oh, my goodness, I would think adults know how to do this by now. They’re like, “well, you’d be surprised.”
If these conversations that we’re having inspire adults to think differently about the way that they move through the world and how they might want to use some of their free time to give back to others, especially if you’re not feeling great if you’re feeling hopeless and sad. I promise you that one day volunteering out in the community with other folks will get your mind off your own problems. It makes a big, big difference. And I think you’ll get bit by the bug as well.
SHERYL: Yeah, it absolutely does. I like that we’ll have you back after you write that book. I
NATALIE: It’s not moms of tweens and teens. It’s just for moms. That’s it.
SHERYL: Yeah. So tell everybody where to find your book and where to find you.
NATALIE: Sure. Yeah. So my website is https://simpleactsguide.com/. And there are links there to both books and other things that I’ve written and my podcast and on social media at simple acts guide.
SHERYL: Wonderful. And where can they find you? You’re on Instagram, too?
SHERYL: So wonderful. This has been great. So thank you for coming to the show. And I’ll share all those links as well in the write-up for everything.
NATALIE: Awesome. Thanks so much, Sheryl. I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me.