The winter months and holiday season have always been one of my favorite times of the year. They're filled with feelings of warmth, joy and, above all, selflessness and a desire to help others.

For teens, giving back can start at home, and it can extend beyond the holidays. Cooking, doing laundry, taking out the trash or even something as simple as setting the table before a meal can be meaningful.

Getting sensible

Teens benefit from doing chores, though we may not realize it at the time. I've gained a lot of common sense through doing chores. For example, I've learned the hard way that I should check what is being washed before throwing my sole pair of white skinny jeans in with dark clothing. I've discovered that I should be gentle when placing anything made of glass into a dishwasher, or I'll have a stressful morning trying to sweep the floor before my carpool arrives. I've also found -- much to my chagrin -- that I should expect to get wet when watering plants and shouldn't wear my favorite jeans and top, particularly immediately before I plan to leave the house.

Homework helps

I've also taken away more significant messages. Doing chores has taught me that practice makes perfect and that I can become more efficient and thorough with time. Through doing housework, I've proved to myself that I can persevere and complete tasks. And, maybe most importantly, I've acquired a sense of independence that I've been especially grateful to have at sleep-away camps, where I'm expected to do my own laundry and maintain a clean room.

I have a ways to go before I can consider myself fully self-reliant. I'm not yet proficient at cooking (which is a skill I should probably attain before going to college so I can avoid cafeteria food and the freshman 15). But as I take on more, I realize that I will use the skills I have developed for the rest of my life.

No novel yet

Maybe I'm not making a radical difference in the world. I haven't written a novel that changed the course of human thought or discovered a cure for a devastating disease. But when I see the expression of gratitude on my parents' faces when they find the sink cleared and dishes put away, I appreciate that even the smallest of actions can make a big difference.

The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Shilpa Rao attends San Ramon Valley High School in Danville. Reach her at lip@bayareanewsgroup.com.