Their good friends, the fuzzy white polar bears, are losing their icy homes. Rising sea levels will wash away those nice pastel houses along the beach. Some day, every moving thing that relies on gas—cars, trains, ships and planes—will come to a screeching halt and the world will be in shock because people won’t know how to live, work, feed themselves, or get around.
These are real fears being shared with children—and not just around my own dinner table.
Adults who are well informed, card-carrying conservationists often articulate these concerns with the greatest of intentions. They believe we are deep in the trenches in the war against global warming and the over-consumption of resources, and the time to act is now. We are amiss if we don’t warn the next generation.
But should we be drawing better boundaries when it comes to coloring the picture for the under-eighteen crowd?
Children who already lack the freedom we enjoyed to jump on bikes and go exploring until dark might be further impaired by negative messages that often accompany environmental concerns—messages that convey their future looks frighteningly grim.
“When I have children, I worry that the world will be ruined and we won’t have a good life if people keep littering and polluting,” says my own ten-year-old, Lauren Bradley. “That might happen.”
Clearly, there’s a right way and a wrong way to prepare our youth to become the stewards of the planet without robbing them of the short-lived innocence of childhood.
For guidance, I went to Daniel Meyer, renowned Bay Area Environmental Educator and classroom science professor. He has spent the past twenty years teaching children about their relationship with nature, including outdoor adventures in the Yosemite Valley.
“Kids don’t have the perspective to understand some issues and tend to internalize them,” observes Meyer. “You can have informative discussions with them about doing their part without making it a doomsday discussion.”
Here are some of Meyer’s dos and don’ts for preparing, rather than scaring, the next generation of conservationists.
Do: Put the big picture in perspective. Geologically speaking, we are insignificant in terms of the earth’s existence. Many things have come and gone before us and will after us. And the only true thing we can do is live responsibly and respect and embrace the environment and everything in it and on it.
Don’t: Dump problems on children they cannot solve. Children can’t prevent an animal from going extinct. That’s the job of scientists, governments, and big business.
Do: Keep it simple. Responsible stewardship starts with light bulbs, composting and recycling. Give kids issues they can tackle so that they feel connected to repairing the earth: They can re-plant. They can fix the trail systems at the Golden Gate Park. They can make posters at school about composting. They can learn to become smart consumers. Child-geared, educational tools, such as The Story of Stuff video by Annie Leonard can help.
Don’t: Take away their innocence by focusing on the negative. The downside is kids can become fixated when they aren’t fully educated about global warming and pollution. Kids who are innocent can still come up with solutions.
Do: Investigate how they can do their part in responsible philanthropic giving by researching various causes and how money is directed. Let them select the cause. This empowers them in doing their part.
Don’t: Miss the opportunity to spend time with your children outdoors. It’s one things to talk trash around the dinner table and another to experience with them the beauty of the nature you strive to protect. Check out the Nature Rocks Campaign for tips.