Family Influence on Volunteering Intention and Behavior among Chinese Adolescents in Hong Kong

By Law, Ben M. F.; Shek, Daniel T. L. | Adolescence, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Family Influence on Volunteering Intention and Behavior among Chinese Adolescents in Hong Kong


Law, Ben M. F., Shek, Daniel T. L., Adolescence


This paper reports the influence of family on adolescents' volunteering intention and behavior. Volunteer service refers to serving organizations such as schools or serving people in need through the arrangements of a formal agency without regard to money return (Law, 2008). In Hong Kong, the most popular volunteer services among adolescents were fund-raising, visits, and organizing mass programs while the major service recipients were the elderly, the general public, and children. While some social scientists have emphasized personal motivational factors solely in determining volunteering behavior (e.g., Clary et al, 1998), some theorists (e.g., Amato, 1990) found that social network factors accounted for a substantially larger variance in planned helping. Social systems, notably families, schools, and peers, are important considerations in volunteer process models for adolescents (Hill, 1993; Omoto & Snyder, 2002; Steinberg & Morris, 2001).

A survey of the literature shows that two important family factors influence adolescents' volunteering behavior. The first is family modeling. In Germany and the United States, adolescents were more likely to volunteer if their parents volunteered (Hofer, 1999; Omoto & Snyder, 2002). In Canada, the life goal of adolescents' parents as "helping other people" enhanced adolescents' volunteering behavior directly by family modeling (Pancer & Pratt, 1999). In the West, distinguished adolescent volunteers often reported that they were likely to incorporate parentally prosocial representations in their actual selves (Yates & Youniss, 1996), thus highlighting the significance of parental modeling. Children with parental modeling exhibited more prosocial and volunteering behavior (Clary & Miller, 1986). Parental modeling was even argued to be the strongest predictor of adolescent volunteerism (Independent Sector, 2008). Unfortunately, no systematic study has been conducted to examine family influence on adolescents' volunteering behavior, particularly in Chinese contexts.

The second factor highlighted in the literature is family support. Studies have shown that family support is related to adolescents' volunteering behavior. Parental support, in terms of appraisal and approval, could predict adolescents' volunteering behavior (Fletcher, Elder Jr., & Mekos, 2000). In Hong Kong, the family was an important source of support for adolescents' volunteering behavior (Agency for Volunteer Service, 1994). In general, Hong Kong families supported their adolescent children's volunteering behavior (Commission on Youth, 1998). The reasons for support were to enable children to care for other people, to contribute to society, and to gain social experience (Central Committee on Youth, 1988). However, not all Hong Kong families supported adolescents' volunteering behavior. First, since Chinese people strongly emphasize academic excellence, some parents may worry that voluntary work might affect their children's studies. Second, voluntary service might be perceived as a waste of time by parents. Third, some parents perceived that their adolescents were not sufficiently competent to help other people (Agency for Volunteer Service, 1994; Central Committee on Youth, 1988; Commission on Youth, 1998).

Theoretically, there are three main knowledge gaps in understanding family influence on adolescent volunteerism in the Hong Kong context. First, although the influences of family modeling and family support on adolescent volunteerism were examined in the West, they have not been explored systematically in Hong Kong. Local studies on family support are descriptive in nature (Commission on Youth, 1998). Second, besides family modeling and family support, other possible types of family influence are not explored. The first author has observed that many Chinese parents had in fact used different strategies to encourage adolescents to participate in community services, such as reward and sponsorship.

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