Do kids really care about sustainability and being eco-friendly? To a child “the future” is that ethereal place as far away as the stars. Yet we parents use it to explain the need to be environmentally conscious. We say things like “You're inheriting this world. It's important to preserve what's left” or “Think about your future. Resources are limited. We need to conserve.” Or the granddaddy of them all: “Love the earth: it’s the only one we’ve got.”
The unfortunate truth is that it’s something they need to be very concerned about. They are growing up in a world with dwindling resources, where landfills are overflowing, and air quality is causing serious problems globally.
The days of the one-off annual Earth Day celebrations are not enough. Our kiddos need to earnestly eat, breath, and dream conservation. The struggle is in how to help them honestly care. How do we, as parents, instill in them the desire to become advocates? Here are a few techniques to try:
1. It’s Never Too Early to Start
In Sweden, studies of eco-friendly preschools (yeah, that's a thing!) found that young children develop significant interest and understanding when directly involved in sustainability-related activities. The study recommends participation at home and at school because younger children have the capacity to engage “in issues related to economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainability.”
2. It Can Be Fun and Games
Create games and “contests” as a fun way to reward kids for remembering to recycle. Purchase reusable grocery bags (let each child pick out their own) and whoever remembers to take them into the store gets to choose a small treat. The EcoFriendlyKids website has quizzes, games, and fun activities to help children get a better understanding and appreciation of the environment.
3. Leverage Peer Pressure
Turn the tables on peer pressure and use it to encourage positive behaviors by getting friends, neighbors, and classmates involved in eco-friendly activities. With more sources of encouragement from different groups, a planet-friendly mentality becomes a way of life.
4. Save the Lectures for Professors
Studies show that children engaged in two-way conversations (rather than receiving long, rambling explanations and instructions) develop into strong, assertive advocates for causes they believe in. Ask your kids to explain their concerns about the environment. And listen. This is a terrific way to find out if they have any misconceptions about the issues. Then guide them to a better understanding with correct information and facts.
5. Help Them Notice
Use every opportunity to point out positive, eco-friendly behaviors happening around them. Help them notice television (or YouTube) ads that show commercial operations moving toward greener solutions. Read the article about the new Urban Garden in your city together. Point out the recycling drive at the local church. Attend the city-wide chemical roundup. Discuss the exciting new career choices -- green jobs -- available for those who are passionate about protecting and repairing the environment.
By getting kids into the habit of caring, sustainability and eco-friendly behaviors become second nature. Recycle at home. Use public transportation or ride bikes to reduce emissions whenever you can. Compost. There are plenty of ways to get our kids involved and make sustainability efforts fun and interesting.
It's a lot better than resorting to “There’s not a Planet B.”