Eco-Fear vs. Eco-Friendly: Helping Your Kids Sift Through the Dirt

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Jul 9, 2010

Present day news, advertisements, and even blockbuster movies are focussed on our environment – the bad things that we’re doing to it, and the bad things that it’s doing to us.

Today’s kids are exposed to these stories – potentially internalizing ‘eco-fears’ rather than being enabled with the tools to help the environment overcome the challenges it faces.

To find the right balance between fear and education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) lecturer and environmental education expert Dr. Hilary Inwood suggests concentrating on what can be done rather than what can’t.  “Discuss what actions your family is taking and why, and focus on the positive benefits of being environmentally-friendly for all living things in our world,” Dr. Inwood suggests. “Once [kids] start to raise questions about environmental issues, then it’s time to have an ongoing series of discussions over time about the environmental challenges we face.  Always focus on the positive actions we can do to make a difference now.”

Setting the framework for future generations to better take care of our world can also be helped by today’s parents – beginning with helping kids connect to their environment by going outside for walks, hikes, bike rides, and another other excursion or trip.

“Doing these types of activities develops a strong set of memories about discoveries they made together as a family,” says Dr. Inwood.  “It’s these emotional connections that will help to lay the foundation for respectful behaviour towards the environment in future.”

The response that Dr. Inwood sees in children who get involved with their surroundings consistently amazes her as “the creativity and positive energy children bring to environmental activities and learning…keeps me hopeful that the next generation will bring a strong sense of innovation and a greater desire to live more lightly on this planet.”

Raising Eco-Friendly Kids: Dr. Inwood’s Top Tips for Parents

1.    Talk with your children about what they are hearing, seeing and learning about the environment.  This might be something as simple as noting the beauty of a local building, or as complex as discussing their fears about the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Let them know that you share their interests and concerns, and are willing to work towards positive environmental change together.

2.    Practice environmentally-friendly behaviour for your children. Be sure you act the way you want them to as modeling is one of the most powerful teaching tools.  Tell them why you’re doing these things, and clarify what their effects are now and in the future.

3.    Learn together about the environments in which you live.  Get books from the library, surf the web together, or measure your family’s ecological footprint.  But be sure to keep any learning age-appropriate – a common rule is to wait to discuss serious ecological disasters with children until about 10 years old.

4.    Take action on an environmental issue important to your family.  Reduce your water consumption, grow a vegetable garden, pick up litter in your favourite park, or help plant trees in your town.  There are lots of ways to help the environment and show children (and yourself) that we can all make a difference.

Related Links:

Kids and Gardening podcast with Charlie Nardozzi:

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