Growing up online

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.   

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.

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 good.  (To find a directory of these causes, search “Impact” in “All of MySpace”.)  On Facebook, try searching “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.

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. 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. Use these sources to find a cause that touches you and your children. 

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.