Six Ways to Give the Gift of Generosity to Children and Teenagers


Cissie Bonini, who represented EatSF, a nonprofit that gives food vouchers to low-income residents, spoke at Brandeis School of San Francisco. Students there pool their money in what is essentially a mini-foundation. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

This is not a guilt trip. Pile the presents to the sky, by all means.

Trump-hating grown-ups may want to throw every last gift-budget dollar into the Planned Parenthood bucket. If that’s your thing, do it.

But let this column be an additional seasonal reminder that generosity is a trait that nearly all of us share and hope to imprint on the children and teenagers in our orbit. So if you’re so inclined, commit yourself to doing at least one thing before the end of the year to bring the gift of giving to young people.

Here are six ideas to get you started:

FAMILY HISTORY Why be generous? It’s a perfectly reasonable question for an innocent kindergartner or oppositional teenager to ask.

One of the best reasons is to honor your own family’s history of having been helped, as I’ve written before. Every family has one, if you stop to think about it.

Mine includes receiving financial aid at two schools over the course of a decade, a mother who survived premenopausal breast cancer thanks to some excellent medical care, and grandparents on my wife’s side who survived the Holocaust and were welcomed to the United States.

So tell your family history to your children, grandchildren, nieces or students. Update it each year with new examples of others who helped you out along the way. Kids love hearing these stories, and it helps them understand why you feel moved to support the causes you do.

YOUR CHARITABLE PIE One of the most meaningful family conversations I can recall resulted from explaining to our older daughter how we divide our charitable budget. To my wife and me, the list of organizations was a pretty good inventory of the things we cared about most.

But was there anything missing, we wondered? There was, according to our 8-year-old, who made the case for donating to a scholarship fund at her camp.


Students at the Brandeis School of San Francisco listening to Ms. Bonini on Wednesday. Charities pitch to the students to request a share of their funding. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

You don’t have to lead with the total dollar amounts or disclose them at all. Instead, drop 100 beans on the table, divide them into piles and then label each pile, noting that for every $100 you give away, this is how you divide it up.

Still, you should be prepared for possible questions about how much you give, which may lead inevitably to ones about how much you make and how much you have. Not all children have the financial knowledge to make sense of the answers or the discretion to keep the numbers to themselves, but by the time they’re in their late teenage years, they are often ready.

FINDING A CAUSE Not every family, let alone every child, has a burning desire to help in some particular area. Annie Hernandez, the executive director of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, suggested the possibility of a tour.

Call your local community foundation (the local entities that help collect and redirect charitable dollars), ask to speak with a program officer, disclose your budget and see if that person is willing to take you to see organizations and neighborhoods where assistance would be helpful.

No, this is not poverty tourism or akin to favela tours; you’re seeking out an expert precisely to avoid any insensitivity and to try to establish a lasting relationship. And even if the person you speak with can’t help you in person, he or she may be able to send you to other local organizations that are compatible with your general areas of interest.

SCHOOL-BASED FUNDS The best school-based giving program I’ve ever encountered is the yearlong effort that the seventh graders take on at the Brandeis School of San Francisco.

Rather than give one another token bar and bat mitzvah gifts, the students and their families at the Jewish kindergarten-through-eighth-grade day school take the money they would have spent, toss it into a giant pile and let the children give it away. With additional fund-raising, the total can sometimes exceed $30,000. Essentially, it’s a mini-foundation that opens in the fall and closes the following summer, featuring grown-ups representing charities who visit the school regularly to request a share through pitches to the students.

As part of the school’s Judaic Studies curriculum, students pair off, establish an area of interest, find three local organizations that help in that area and then present one of them to classmates for further evaluation. Criteria for the culling include the importance of the problem, proof of the organization’s effectiveness and how big of an impact the students’ gift could make given the size of the organization.

Each one is ripe material for extended conversation, which is exactly the point. Students can change their minds about their allocation votes at least once before the day comes to dole out as much as $5,000 per group. “Every year at the culminating event, there are parents crying,” said Jody Bloom, who teaches the Judaic Studies class. “It’s a lot of the reason that they send their kids to the school in the first place.”


Students at Brandeis, a Jewish school, save the money they would normally spend on bar and bat mitzvah gifts and instead give to charity. With additional fund-raising, the total can sometimes exceed $30,000 in a year. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

GIVING CIRCLES Many schools are not equipped to support curriculums that feature actual dollars, but nothing is stopping parents from establishing something like it outside the classroom. Mandy Kao, a mother of three in Houston and a real estate entrepreneur, had herself participated in a charitable giving circle, where a group of people pool resources to make collective decisions about grant making, when she decided to start a circle for her three boys and other children a few years ago.

The group of Houston-area youths raise money through a Mother’s Day brunch and other activities and receive matching funds from an organization called Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.They’ve made grants to youth soccer programs that help refugees and to Big Brothers Big Sisters in an effort to try to encourage more Asian-Americans to serve as mentors.

In Manhattan, Sara Shapiro-Plevan, a consultant, is about to start a giving circle just for boys. She was plotting against the reality that by the time middle school rolls around, some children want nothing to do with members of the opposite sex, while others want everything to do with them. Either way, she figured, it would work better if it was just her sixth grader and his male friends. “It’s an easier way to have what might be a challenging conversation,” she said. “And to do something his mom was asking him to do.”

For many years, Jen Bokoff, a Brooklyn resident who works in philanthropy, has done a one-night-only circle with her family each Hanukkah. She and her relatives each bring $10, regardless of age, and then talk for a bit about an organization they favor. Everyone’s names go into a hat, someone picks and then that person’s organization gets all the money.

SHARING December can be a sad time for many adults, often because they feel diminished by the lavish holiday tales that flow through their social media feeds. Nevertheless, Ms. Hernandez is a big believer in talking about whatever giving we do, because it normalizes it as a regular holiday activity.

So how best for a family to share in a way that will not subtly shame some other adult having a more materialistic holiday?

Ms. Bokoff is the director of knowledge services at the Foundation Center, which helped build a resource-rich website for families and educators called In her world, the giving talk is often around donors’ treasure, time, talent and ties.

Treasure is the money. Time and talent are about volunteering, which children should certainly do too in their areas of interest.

As for the ties, that’s about your network — and for middle- and high-school-age children, their most powerful networks may be digital ones. “They can use those platforms to share causes they care about,” Ms. Bokoff said. “And if they do it, their friends are more likely to as well.”

Parents Are As Plugged in As Their Kids

Common Sense Media

Michael Robb

Director of Research | Dad of two

Common Sense Media Census Measures Plugged-In Parents

It’s a family thing: How the media environment shapes kids’ use — and what we can do to make it better. By Michael Robb 12/5/2016

Everybody knows tweens and teens rack up lots of screen time. But what about parents? Common Sense Media’s new report, The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens, finally provides some answers. In collaboration with the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University, we surveyed over 1,700 parents of children age 8 to 18 on their attitudes and concerns about their kids’ — and their own — media use. We hope that taking an honest look at how parents use media and tech, how they manage and monitor their kids, and how they talk to kids about media will help us all raise media-savvy kids and good digital citizens.

READ THE FULL REPORT: The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens

The great news is that the report shows that parents are trying to be good digital role models and are overwhelmingly supportive of the positive benefits of media in their kids’ lives. No, we’re not perfect — and the report reveals the tension between what we do and what we want our kids to do. But we’re concerned about our kids, and most of us think we have a role in protecting them from online risks. Finally, the report suggests that when parents are aware of their kids’ online activities, they’re less likely to worry — which is a great reason to be engaged with your kids’ media. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

Parents are avid media users, too! On any given day, parents of American tweens and teens average more than nine hours with screen media each day. Eighty-two percent of that time (almost eight hours) is devoted to personal screen media activities such as watching TV, social networking, and video gaming, with the rest used for work.

Parents believe they “walk the walk.” In fact, 78 percent of all parents believe they are good media and technology role models for their children. Mothers are more likely than fathers to report this.

Many parents have concerns about their children’s social media use and other online activities. For example, 43 percent of parents are worried about their children spending too much time online. A third of parents are concerned that technology use is hurting their children’s sleep.

Parents keep tabs on kids’ media use. Most parents said that monitoring their tweens’ and teens’ media use is important for their safety. Two-thirds of parents say that monitoring media use is more important than respecting kids’ privacy. More than two in five parents check their children’s devices and social media accounts “always” or “most of the time.”

Hispanic parents are more aware and more concerned. Hispanic parents are more aware of their kids’ media use and manage it more than black or white parents. They also indicated more concern about their children’s online activities. For example, 60 percent of Hispanic parents were concerned about their children spending too much time online, as compared to 37 percent of white parents and 33 percent of black parents.

As the report reveals, parents face a number of challenges in the digital age. The sheer amount of media and tech in our lives makes it tough to monitor and manage our own use — let alone our kids’. And though screen-time guidelines are helpful, there are no hard-and-fast rules about how much is OK and how much is “too much.” 

But amid these obstacles, parents’ positive attitudes about the role of technology is a hopeful sign. We should build on this optimism by supporting uses of technology that foster academic and personal development. Role-modeling is a great start to promoting a healthy digital lifestyle, and parents can help establish good habits through family rituals like device-free dinners and media activities that strengthen relationships. Taking a hard look at the family media environment is an important step toward helping kids develop the digital citizenship skills they need to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.

Engaging Girls in STEM: Gift Guide for Girls

With the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect time to think about gifts that engage and encourage girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Research shows that girls feel more excited about pursuing STEM topics when adults highlight the place of collaboration, tinkering, role models, and meaningful objectives in STEM fields. We’ve compiled some suggestions of STEM gifts that incorporate these principles. Remember, it’s never too early to introduce girls to STEM toys and activities!
Research shows that girls prefer and persevere more in collaborative STEM work. Teachers promote collaborative STEM work by pairing girls with varied or complementary skill sets, using small groups (no more than 3-4 girls) and mixing up groups and pairings often. To promote collaboration in free play, consider toys that lend themselves easily to playing together with a friend or two.
LCRG recommends: Roominate, Robot Turtles, Quirkle
Girls are less likely than boys to tinker with building materials, mechanical objects and computers. By tinkering less, girls miss out on opportunities to practice important skills such as spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning and critical thinking. Tinkering toys abound for girls of all ages.
Role Models
A dearth of female STEM role models may limit girls’ engagement in STEM activities. When girls lack exposure to female STEM role models, it reinforces negative stereotypes that some girls hold about STEM fields. New researchshows that having girls write and reflect about their own female STEM role models increases their “sense of fit” in STEM. Consider some of the resources below to increase girls’ connection to female STEM role models.
Meaningful Objectives
Girls value STEM work that holds clear and purposeful ties to everyday life. Female college students report a stronger desire than male college students to use their technical skills to help others. Toymakers have recently started incorporating this idea into STEM toys; here are some to consider:
Additional Resources
For more fantastic gifts for girls, check out these sites:
For more information on girls and STEM, check out LCRG’s research briefs on the topic:

Why Failure Hits Girls So Hard



Getty Images

Failing well is a skill

When I ask why, she answers without hesitation. “I’m so used to doing well on things. If one thing goes wrong, I just want it to go away and feel like it never happened.”

That’s why Mary rarely speaks about her setbacks, including the study-abroad trip when she suffered from brutal homesickness, but didn’t tell a soul. She is terrified to be seen as anything less than extraordinary.

Jessica Lahey’s new book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, says young women like Mary are in trouble. They’ve been so protected from mistakes, usually by their parents, that they fear failure, avoid risk and value image over learning. By the time they go to college, they are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and stress.

Lahey says parents defail their kids’ lives in order to minimize kids’ pain and extend their need for mom and dad’s support. When kids are dependent on parents, mom and dad can enjoy kids’ wins as evidence of superior parenting.

A raft of studies back up Lahey’s point. But evidence suggests that girls may be especially vulnerable when it comes to failing, and being spared from it. Here’s why trying to protect girls from challenge hits them especially hard:

Girls respond to failure differently than boys. When girls make mistakes, they’re more likely to interpret the setback as a sign they lack ability — a factor much harder for girls to change. Boys, on the other hand, tend to attribute failure to more controllable circumstances.

The phenomenon has been traced in part to how teachers talk to students. In observational studies, teachers corrected girls for mistakes related to ability, while boys tended to get more behavioral interventions (“Pipe down!”, “Stop throwing that paper airplane,” and so on).

Other studies have found that girls are more likely to give up in the face of a stressful academic situation. In one study, fifth-grade students were given a task that was intentionally confusing. It was the girls who were derailed by the confusion and unable to learn the material. Notably, the highest-IQ girls struggled the most. The phenomenon continues in college, where Harvard economist Claudia Goldin found it was women dropping out of Intro to Economics when they failed to get A’s.

In the early 2000s, a new gender difference in how kids experience failure was identified. “Stereotype threat” — the burden girls face when dealing with the stereotype that they are “bad” at math and science — has been linked to their underperformance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Less known is how stereotype threat makes failure more bruising for girls. It works like this: when girls buy into the stereotype that they’re bad at math, they don’t see a missed problem or poor grade as a correctible issue. Instead, it confirms what everyone else knows — that they simply have less ability. These experiences, researchers say, “add stress and self-doubt to [girls’] educational experiences and diminish their sense of belonging to the academic arena.”

Rescuing girls from failure makes them lose motivation — even more than boys. We learn best when we’re intrinsically motivated — that is, when we try something new for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. Intrinsic motivation is one of learning’s most precious resources. It bolsters us to stick out the tough moments of a challenge and pursue what we love to do.

Autonomy is one of three core ingredients of intrinsic motivation. In other words, we’re most inclined to want to learn when we can do it freely and of our own accord. When we believe others are interfering with our autonomy by trying to control our performance — say, by offering rewards, threatening punishment or offering certain kinds of praise — our motivation plummets.

Professors Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, pioneers in the study of motivation, say girls are more vulnerable to having their autonomy and motivation threatened. Because girls are raised to please others, they tend to care more about feedback from teachers and parents — and so are more sensitive to feeling controlled.

Females, Deci and Ryan have written, “pay particular attention to evidence of having pleased the evaluator when praised.” That’s why multiple studies find that girls show more negative outcomes when they are praised in ways that pressure them to keep performing at a high level.

In one study, praising elementary-school students for fixed traits and abilities, like being “smart” or “nice,” undermined intrinsic motivation for girls, but not boys. Another study found that in success situations, boys were more comfortable with praise that focused on their abilities, while girls were more comfortable with effort praise (“You worked hard”).

So what does work for girls? One study found that using informational praise to describe a good performance (“You did very well on that test”), instead of making an interpretation of it (“You’re so smart”), increased girls’ intrinsic motivation. Praising effort (“You worked really hard on that”) over ability has consistently been proven to motivate all kids, and especially girls.

Failing well is a skill. Letting girls do it gives them critical practice coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge. Besides this, girls need educators and parents to challenge stereotype threat, reminding them that ability can always be improved with effort, and that who they are will not determine where they end up.

Lahey says that saving kids from failure sends the message that we think they’re “incompetent, incapable and unworthy of our trust.” That’s why giving kids the space to screw up, as Lahey advises, is so important — and will be particularly so for girls.

It is harder to raise the comeback kid than the golden child. And better.

KJ Dell’Antonia

It's the slog through the mud that matters. Especially if it isn't mud.

It’s the slog through the mud that matters. Especially if it isn’t mud.

What does success look like for your kid?

I think, to many of us, success—happiness, satisfaction, goals met—is supposed to look easy. Some of that is our culture. Our icons of cool tend to take it easy; they sail in and save the day with a few clever turns of phrase and without a hair out of place.

But much of it is just how we want life to be, minute by minute, for our children. We so want them to get the A, to make the team, to score the lead, to be surrounded by friends and applause. Who hasn’t envied the friend with the golden child, the one with all the gifts, who seems to sail through life so effortlessly, always in the front of the pack? Life seems like it must be so easy with the child who has it made; you’re not dealing with disappointment and frustration and envy and self-doubt, there’s no watching the child get up and face the morning when every single other child who auditioned made the school dance troop except for her and one other girl, and the whole team is right out front welcoming the new members.

But if you can just take the long view, you really want your kid to have to face that morning.

We know we should let our kids fail. The trouble is, what most of us are really hoping for is “failure light.” We want to steel ourselves, refuse to bring in a few forgotten lunches and let them take in a pitiful, last-minute second grade State Fair project—and then they learn! And it’s all smooth sailing!! In our hearts, we’d still rather see our children ace the test the first time, make the team as a freshman and get in early decision to their college of choice. Those second and third chance comeback stories are great for other people, but not for our children.

We are so wrong when we think like that.

Of course we want every happiness and joy possible for our children. Those short horizon triumphs, though, don’t necessarily help our kids make their own way into their futures. Don’t hope your kids sail straight into the Ivies. Hope your kids know what they want and what it takes to get it. Teach your kids to believe, with every fiber of their beings, that they can pick themselves up and turn themselves around and make something happen in the face of any setback.

We have a tendency to think that a second chance is second best. The child who got into the university right off is the one who really belongs there, not the one who managed to transfer after a year of excelling at a community college. All the celebrity goes to the 18-year-old who heads straight to the majors, not to the 28-year-old who gets there after slogging  for a decade. Why do we want to be “born with it,” to “wake up this way,” to be a “natural,” when it’s work that breeds success? Even when we ourselves are the ones who had to work to get where we are, we question our own achievements, struggle with imposter syndrome and talk ourselves out of pursuing opportunities (especially if we’re women).

Forget the golden child. Forget the minute by minute. As I wrote in my last email, there are very few “universal truths” of parenthood, but here’s another one: What you want for your child now may not lead to what you want for your child in the future.  It’s hard to help a child through a failure, but it’s among the most important things we do. We’re there. We listen. We nod. We hug. We let them rant their way through the “I will never” and the “I can’t” and the “that wasn’t fair” into the “if only I’d” and “why didn’t I” and then through the crying and the self-incrimination and the fear until they get to “next time…”

It may take hours and it may take days, and that’s fine. When failure turns into “not yet” or “what’s next,” you can help your child to start making her own magic. Will she get up the morning after her name isn’t on the roster for the basketball team, congratulate her friends, then go out and shoots hoops, and beg for the ride to the Y, and takes every opportunity to show the coaches that next year, she’ll be ready? Or will he persuade the drama teacher to teach him how to run the light board in the school auditorium because he’s realized it’s the illusion, even more than the performances, that captivates him? Can she own her disappointment and make a plan, or turn her anger into determination? Can he try again, or set his sights—with excitement—on something else?

The kid who can start again is the kid who is ready for the long game.

Lots of us tend to think of “grit” as something that’s reserved for the children who have obvious challenges. It’s what gets them to the Ivy League from the projects, or earns them a top SAT score in spite of dyslexia. But grit is really just what gets you up when you’re down, what walks you into the classroom to say, I screwed this up, how can I make it better, or what lets you pursue the weird side interest, like studying the dirt that’s left in the hole when everyone else is digging for gold. It’s drive and it’s will and it’s flexibility. Raise a child who wants something (pretty much anything) and knows how to make a plan for getting there, and you’ve raised someone who will get somewhere, no matter how long it takes.