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Growing Up Online

Virtual Generosity with Real Results

Teaching Kids to do Good Deeds Online

October 01, 2009
As soon as you become a parent, you have a powerful incentive to make the world a better place. You also have a lot less time to devote to good causes. One solution: Do good deeds online where there are thousands of opportunities for children as well as adults.

Even though online bad guys often grab the headlines, the Internet is also teeming with people who want to help each other. Some of the ideas in the list that follows are simple enough for young children. Others require a parent to take the lead. Either way, they present opportunities for family philanthropy—and lots of opportunities to talk about how important it is for people to share both time and money with those who need it.

Start simple. Network for Good has a very straight-forward Kid's Guide to Giving (http://tinyurl.com/mut7oj) that helps even very young children identify meaningful ways to volunteer their time or donate their pocket money. There are also ideas about how children can raise funds for causes they want to support.

Think small. Microgiving is the latest trend in philanthropy because small gifts at the right time in the right place can often make a big difference. Globalgiving.org allows you and your kids to search for good causes all over the world. The projects are described in very concrete terms so you know exactly what your dollars will do: $40 sends a child in India to school for a year, $100 provides clean water for 100 children in China and so on. The site also makes it possible to purchase gift cards so the recipient can have the satisfaction of deciding where a donation should go.

Use the network. Most social networking sites now include many philanthropic opportunities. MySpace gives Impact awards to groups that are creative about using their pages to do well. (To find a directory of these causes, search "All of MySpace" for Impact.) On Facebook, try searching on "Feed a Child with Just a Click." You'll find a long list of websites where you can make donations just by clicking on an icon. Adolescents may also be interested in social networks devoted entirely to making a difference (mtdn.com) or to a single cause such as climate change (oneclimate.net).

Enlist teens. Adolescents, especially those who need to find community service hours, are also likely to respond to the energy at Dosomething.org, a website dedicated to the proposition that teens can change the world. In addition to inspiring stories about what other young people have accomplished, the site offers a sophisticated way of searching for volunteer opportunities by location, duration, interest groups and causes.

Treat a teacher. If your kids are lucky enough to attend good schools, think about adopting a teacher at a school that is struggling. At Donorschoose.org, teachers post often-eloquent messages about what they need in their classrooms. You can support a project in full or in part, and you might want to browse with your kids to find a classroom that teaches students in the same grades.

Answer a question. Many sites promise to donate every time you correctly answer a quiz question. Everywon.com has quizzes about a variety of topics. Each correct answer earns two points which can be spent on a variety of causes including planting trees, buying books for kids, providing meals for hungry people and so on. Charitii.com is an addictive collection of crossword puzzle clues. Each time you guess the right word, you make a micro donation to one of four causes. Freerice.com also offers quiz questions including some that will help kids review for tests in geography, grammar and algebra. Knowing that you're doing good for others at the same time may make homework a little more palatable for some kids.

Donate downtime. In most households, the computer stays on even when someone isn't using it. You can donate that downtime to scientific research through a project managed by Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, also known as BOINC. Signing up is easy at boinc.berkeley.edu and you can even pick the research project you want to support.

Collect for a cause. Kids love to collect things. Thanks to the Internet, you can think beyond the traditional canned food drive. What about a sock drive? Six-year-old Hannah started collecting socks after she met a homeless man who didn't have any. Today, 45,000 pairs of socks later, she uses a website (hannahssocks.org) to share her enthusiasm. Kids can also collect worn-out blue jeans (cottonfrombluetogreen.org), video games (donategames.org) and almost anything else they don't need anymore. Just put what they want to collect and "donate" into the name of a search engine.

Search for good. Speaking of search engines, consider using one that donates every time you use it. Goodsearch.com let's you choose the charity of your choice from a huge master list. Theecokey.com donates money to environmental clean up each time you click "search".

Finally, before donating time or money to any organization you discover online (or anywhere else for that matter), do a little research to be sure the group is legit. The Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) reports on non-profits and so does Charitynavigator.org. Guidestar.com and Charitywatch.org are also reputable sources of information. Use these sources to find a cause that touches both you and your children. Then open your hearts and start a habit of generosity that will enrich your children for the rest of their lives.

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing about families and the Internet for over fifteen years. She is the mother of three computer-savvy kids. Other Growing Up Online columns appear on her website www.growing-up-online.com.

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing about families and computers since 1993. Other columns about are available at www.growing-up-online.com.
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