Thursday, February 17, 2011

Raising Children Who Love The Earth

I worry about my son's future. 

I don't tend to be a big worrier. I have only so much mind to use from minute to minute and for the most part I can find infinitely better things to do with it then worry. The comment I hear most from others about myself as a parent is that I am 'so relaxed', and whether it's meant as a compliment or not I tend to take it as one. 

But never the less I worry about my son's future, and I am sure I am not alone in this. The fact is that every time I see a TV commercial for Kleenex brand disposable hand towels, or a news story like the continuing effect of the gulf oil spill, and every time I throw out my food waste because we haven't yet figured out a good way to compost from our apartment, I am overcome with a sense of fear and hopelessness about the future of this planet. A future that belongs to my son, and to your children as well. 

When I think about the continued UNsustainability of the world and culture that we live in, I start to worry.

I can hope to teach my child earth friendly habits like energy conservation, repairing, reusing and recycling, and eating whole foods found locally whenever possible, or any of the hundreds of other small ways my family chooses to lessen our effect on the environment.

But how do I fight back against the 'more, more, more, 'instant, convenient, disposable' mentality of the culture that we live in as it finds newer and more creative ways to push its way into my child's mind? How do I raise a child who has love and compassion for the earth and the good sense to know the difference between sustainable solutions and a marketing ploy? More importantly, how do I raise a child who, given the choice between easy and right, will do the right thing for himself, his community, and the world around him?

I want to try and model all of these things to my child as he grows. I am not sure exactly how, but I believe teaching is a process which is born from relationships of trust and respect. There will be many lessons taught between us, him to me and me to him. But I want to also create an environment where these lessons come naturally, where questions that lead to discussions which lead to learning and problem solving can happen organically. How do I do that in a culture so far removed from the natural world?

The obvious answer to these questions is to spend time out doors. Almost everyone I've talked to about these worries of mine is confident that a few hours a week at the neighborhood park and some precious memories of camping or sailing or hiking or fishing will be enough to raise children who are passionate about nature and protecting it.  

I am not convinced that that is all there is to it.  Lots of people spent time outside as children but don't 'have time' to recycle, don't care where their food is coming from so long as it's convenient, who buy SUVs only to drive them alone and in city for their daily commute.  For every advocate who credits childhood camping trips with their love for nature, there is an oil loving climate change denier with the same experiences and none of the compassion. 

It is true that our children are spending far less time enjoying the great outdoors then many of us did as children, and far more time plugged into various devices. I am certainly not denying the importance of getting them out there, it's a huge part of the equation, but it's not the final answer. 

So what is? How do we encourage our children to love and respect nature AND have the passion to protect it?

My kid doesn't have to grow up to be a revolutionary. I mean, that would be really rad if that's what he wanted, but my aim isn't to groom one necessarily. I just want to raise a connected person who is mindful of his place in the world and how his actions effect the world around him. I want to raise a curious person, who questions what he sees and what cannot be seen and approaches global issues with compassion. 

I am just not sure HOW to do that!


melissa joanne said... [Reply to comment]

I agree that plenty of time in nature alone is unlikely to have the effect you're looking for. I have to think that plenty of time in nature coupled with learning how to compost, even in an apartment and with everyday habits at home that reflect a conscientious and caring attitude, will. Great, thought-provoking post!

Tacey said... [Reply to comment]

Modelling it to him has got to have the biggest impact. One thing I've started doing recently is if I'm on the way home and I spot a can or bottle someone has thrown away, I take it home with me to recycle. Generally, I hope that by seeing the choices I make for our family, and talking to her about them, my daughter will come to appreciate the earth and be conscious of how to care for it. The fact that you're thinking about it is more than half the battle!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for thinking to write about this. This is a topic that we've only really started addressing in our home and could do much better in the future with it. Thank you for the reminder about how important it is!

Sheila said... [Reply to comment]

I don't think you can do better than by example! My mom was big on never wasting anything -- because her parents grew up in the Great Depression -- and I inherited the same attitude. Three generations away from poverty and we still are careful with our resources. I guess part of that is never having a lot of toys and things growing up -- I learned to value them.

One thing I intend to do to teach my son to be a good steward of the earth is to keep an organic garden. When he sees how much effort it is to maintain the soil, he might value it more.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Great article on this topic that I think about too. I agree that modeling has the strongest impact. We also back this up with books, time in nature, and giving age appropriate tasks such as sorting the recycling, remembering our reusable bags from the car or turning our food into compost

Post a Comment