How to Raise Eco-Conscious Kids

You know that being “green” has become an official fad when you start seeing t-shirts for 12 year old girls at the department store imprinted with mantras like “Think Green” (on a green shirt) or “Do Something Good Today: Recycle”.

I was at a department store at the mall the other day, getting clothes for my 7th grader. We smelled perfumes. We looked at shiny new jewelry. We tried on trendy jackets. I commented at how it felt like 1982 all over again, with clunky boots, layered tank tops, cheap chain necklaces and skinny jeans, none of which I could fathom wearing at my ripe age. Yep, there’s nothing like walking through a department store to make you feel dumpy, fat, ugly or old. Almost everything you see is meant to make you feel like you’re lacking in some way.

Anyway, this is when I noticed the t-shirts. They were displayed prominently as we passed the children’s clothing section. “Think Green.” it blared in 150 point type across the flat chest of the manequin. Forget the fact that these shirts represent nothing uniquely sustainable– they’re just thin cotton shirts mass produced in China or Tawain. The idea that a 10 or 12 year old girl would want to advertise her eco-consciousness is saying something.

It’s telling me that her parents are probably making comments and judgments about their own eco-habits. Maybe they talk to their kids about the importance of doing the right thing and living more sustainably. I know, because I talk to my daughter about stuff like this. I tell her the importance of living in harmony with our environment. She knows about recycling and saving energy and reducing pollution. She is young and she is impressionable and she really wants to emulate her parents.

Maybe talking to our children about the importance of living in an ecologically sustainable way and actually putting some of our values into practice is a very important way of teaching them to be better Earth citizens. Making sustainability “cool” is one way of getting a kid to embrace the idea. But how do you get it to stick so it doesn’t go the way of other adolescent fads like break dancing, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and feathered bangs?

Also, what about adults? Can going green become MORE than just a fad and actually become part of a person’s value system for the long-term?

The question of how a person makes a psychological shift from feeling detached from what’s happening to the environment to actually wanting to live sustainably and in harmony with it all comes down to one thing: ecopsychology.

Numerous studies have shown that people who care about the environment seem to have one very important thing in common. They identify with nature in some way. Their environment is a significant part of their lives. Perhaps they love to hike and spend time in the mountains every chance they get. Or they lovingly tend to a backyard garden and like to watch birds in their yard. Maybe they take daily walks on a beach to enjoy it’s vastness and to feel peaceful.

People who spend time in nature typically care more about what happens to it.

Ecopsychology studies why we persist in destroying their environment, and what it takes to change the way we think, so the protection and conservation of natural habitat is equal to the preservation of our OWN mental and physical well-being.

I know that the single best way to change the way a person perceives the environment and their place in it is to get them out in nature and connecting to some beautiful aspect of the wild. I also know the best way to bring up my child with the right values is to do things like going on walks with her in the woods, or taking her down to the lake with a field guide and watch the ducks make lazy circles in the water. Sure, it helps that I tell her about recycling and the importance of not being too materialistic and consumed by retail fads. Ultimately, though, the one thing that’s going to have long-lasting impact on her developing mind is the time she spent tending a campfire up in the mountains while watching the sun set over a peak, or standing among pack of mule deer, or having a camper jay land on her hand to swipe a piece of bread out of the palm of her hand.

Those are the moments she’ll refer to when someone asks her someday, “What do you care if they cut down that forest to make room for a new mall?” She’ll care, because she’ll know that no tchachke, trinket or t-shirt bought at that mall could ever take the same place in her heart as feeling that wild bird’s tiny feet grip the tips of her fingers in tender and hungry gratitude.