Talking to children about environmental issues

March 5th, 2011
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During my childhood I formed a deep-seated fear of all things nuclear and a grim acceptance of the notion of a nuclear Armageddon. It literally kept me awake at nights. This did not come from my parents – it was the media.
  
Was that fear a good thing? Perhaps. However, it’s certainly set me against nuclear power as a source of energy and it would take some convincing otherwise, even if it were ever made “safe” and environmentally friendly.
  
The problem with fear is while it can help us avoid harm, it can also have an effect of closing our minds or even becoming fatalistic about things; accepting something is a done deal and that resistance is futile.
  
So how do we relay our concerns about the environment without frightening the heck out of our children? How do we translate some of the frightening images and concepts the media (or even this site) puts forward at times into something they can deal with?
  
Besides setting a good example, we need to empower children; convince them that while things aren’t all sunshine and puppies, they can make a difference and that in fact the future of the planet depends on them; the decisions they make right now and tomorrow.
  
It sounds like a heavy burden for such young shoulders. The key is to keep the message simple and it’s my opinion we should make it one about personal responsibility first instead of perhaps unwittingly creating mini-activists fuelled only by fear; or kids so scared they feel powerless to take any action.
 
Something else from even further back in my childhood with a strong message but a positive influence was a song from Sesame Street – Willie Wimple. 
 
It relayed to me that what may be considered a petty issue such as dropping a single piece of litter was not insignificant – there were consequences. It was this line that has stayed with me for over three decades:
 
“Now if every kid did it, can’t you see. What an icky, messy, no-fun world it would be”
 
It was a big-picture concept conveyed in a way a child could understand – the rhyming also helped with retention.
 
While I couldn’t save the world as a youngster, I knew that littering was something I had a personal stake in – a decision that had an impact on the environment. 
 
It’s that simple line from a children’s song that is a common theme throughout many of the articles I write on green living – that the little things all add up to the mess we have found ourselves in. By starting out small and working your way through all the green issues in your life, you can avoid being overwhelmed and possibly giving up – that simple green actions do have an effect.
 
Imagine if the basic concept of the Willie Wimple song could reach the consciousness of however many millions of children in that age group today who are in a situation to understand and act on it.
 
What have you found successful in getting the environmental message through to your children and other kids; without causing them sleepless nights or bad dreams?

Related:

Greening your family
Greening your school


Michael Bloch
Green Living Tips.com
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