How can you do to ensure that your children understand the state of the environment without upsetting them and help them become part of the solution in an environment of Greta Thunbergs, the ever-present challenge of climate change, and its already devastating toll?
The good news is, many young people are already alert to the rumbling around them about the atmosphere. "Today they are more conscious of these larger , more complex socio-scientific problems than I think even our generation was when we were younger," says Carol O'Donnell, director of the Washington Smithsonian Science Education Center.
She assumes it's because we now have more data to prove it humans have a negative effect on the environment, pointing to the consensus on this finding among 97 percent or more of climate scientists.
"We have proof that we are depleting a lot of the tools we know that we need to live the way we do," says O'Donnell.
She wants the pre-school audience of the Science Education Center to use the awareness through high school students to build more sustainable practices, whether it be through energy consumption or fewer plastic purchases.
"What policies do we put in place right now to protect ourselves in the future? People who make decisions about wearing masks, for example, or social distance or physical distance, don't always make the decision on their own. They 're doing that to protect us," O'Donnell says. "Having a sustainability mentality means you 're focused on problems where someone else's viewpoint is essential."
You'll want to make sure that sustainability is high on the list of skills you impart on your child in an uncertain environment. Of course individual acts are minimal and the overemphasis on personal carbon emissions is just a corporate scam. Industries and governments need to step up to help address climate change. After all, at the moment 20 corporations are responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Nevertheless, it is crucial for children to learn about our position in climate change so that they can understand what actions they should take individually to protect the resources of Earth, and how to bring pressure on corporate and government actors. After all, the behavior of one person can not make much of a difference but we can build collective change when we band together.
Ota Lutz, who heads the education community STEM K-12 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., points to the already universal awareness that plastic straws are not good for the environment and the subsequent plastic straw bans.
"Everybody was sitting around with plastic straws; no, they don't," says Lutz. "More and more, they 're just not around as much." We 're getting to grips with the reality that our lifestyle is increasingly unsustainable and, as Lutz points out, people working together will make at least a difference in conserving natural resources
1. Motivate your child to explore
"We should be promoting exploratory, action-oriented learning," says O'Donnell, "whether that learning takes place at home or in the group in an informal environment, like in a museum, or in school."
When you use the knowledge you gleaned about the environment to make a change about how you work, the action part kicks in. When your child knows about clean water supplies, for example, she may use the new knowledge to take shorter showers or turn off the sink when brushing her teeth. By encouraging your children to explore nature (if you're in a community, you do have a great learning opportunity with public parks), they 're able to understand how their structures function and how they affect Earth's resources on a daily basis. Having the connection will inspire them to change their behaviour.
"Do anything to make a difference with that material," says O'Donnell.
2. Ask questions, but let children observe what's around them
When you and your child are on a stroll, consider saying, "What do you notice?" O'Donnell suggests. A kid might say, "It looks like there used to be water there," or "the trees were cut down." And if you're in the car or together driving public transit, you might inquire, "Why do you think our vehicle is strong and where do you think it comes from?"
To help inspire the world's own observations of children, you might say, "Why do you think that's it?" or "Do you have any questions as to why it might be?"
"Then you start digging into the study," O'Donnell says. Help your child understand, after the first example, where the water came from, why it's not there anymore, what humans might have done to affect the loss of the water and what we might do better in the future.
"Parents are going to learn as much from those interactions as children do," O'Donnell says.
3. Talk about sustainability from a local perspective to connect it to global issues
Most kids are more likely to grasp major, global problems when they can hear about them locally first, O'Donnell says.
To return to the example of water, a parent may remind her child that the reason for the water being dried up is because their town built a dam upstream, preventing water flow, providing hydroelectricity and the jobs that go with it. It can lead a child to understand both the economic side of a issue and the environmental side of it. If you're worried about fossil fuels, you could think about the cost of your town's oil and what could affect it. It could open a dialog to expose your child to geopolitics and how it interacts with how much you're paying at the pump.
Kids, especially the younger they are, think of these issues from their own perspective, O'Donnell says.
"When you build the sustainable behaviors of students, then they have to be motivated by local problems, local concerns, local experiences, and local behavior," says O'Donnell. "And then take and implement those local acts, local decisions, local inquiries on a larger scale."
As always, weigh the age of your child and their level of development into what subjects you are introducing, and how you approach them.
4. Model the behavior you want
How you do is much more important than what you say in promoting the behaviour. Say Dr. Chuck Kopczak, a curator at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif., who holds a Ph.D. in marine biology and biological oceanography, if you don't want your child to use throw away water bottles.
Kopczak says the science center does this in its own way by seeking to remove single-use plastic water bottles, partially by substituting bottled water for sales. Though not a perfect solution, Kopczak says the center still sells "high quality reusable bottles for sale to visitors to use the newly built refill stations for water fountains at the Science Center."
If you want your child to realize that fossil fuels are bad for the world, don't idle your car after school when you pick it up, Kopczak suggests to use another example. Though relatively tiny, these kinds of acts can make a big impact on children and don't involve extra time in your day.
If your child repeats the desired action, such as turning off the water while washing dishes, reward him in some way, but if he forgets, don't punish him, says Kopczak. You can push your child in the direction you like, but bear in mind that creating a healthy lifestyle requires behaviors that require time to set up.
5. Don't scare them.
Clearly speak to your children using scientific evidence but be careful not to bring them into a vortex triggered by anxiety
"Try not to build the impression that this is the end of the world, but it's a challenge we need to face. It's going to spread, and they're going to share it with friends," Kopczak says.
To inspire faith, you can use optimistic examples to demonstrate how mankind has worked together to strive for progress on a issue, such as closing the hole in Earth's ozone layer, or eradicating smallpox.
"In the past, we've taken on huge challenges and we've found solutions to solve them. It may be the biggest problem we've ever faced, because it clearly affects the entire world," says Kopczak. "Transmit to them, the more people we can get interested in talking about things we can do, the more likely we can find ideas, so they can be a part of it. You don't have to be a scientist."