Heat waves, droughts, flooding, storms, fewer crops and rising sea levels have all been blamed on climate change.
More recently, ominous signs of this phenom were the Australian wildfires that ravaged New South Wales and two small islands in South Sumatra disappearing because of rising sea levels. So, it’s no surprise that the conversation about environmental challenges like deforestation and pollution has gained momentum, especially since climate change is worsening the scope and impact of natural disasters.
The dire state of our planet has prompted teens like 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg to take action to save the earth, which has drawn worldwide attention.
At age 15, she campaigned outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on climate change, and organised a school strike to raise awareness for her cause. The youngest individual ever to be named Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year not only convinced her parents to cut their carbon footprint through lifestyle adjustments, she even addressed the United Nations Climate Action Summit last year.
Teach your child to differentiate between wants and needs, and you’ll go a long way in minimising wasteful consumption.
Thunberg’s actions, whose concern for the environment was sparked at age 11, show that young people can make a huge difference in caring for the environment. Parents also play a vital role in raising environmentally-aware kids who want to do their part to save the earth.
“Environment education is no longer a ‘good to have’ for young people ― it is a critical knowledge and skill base to cultivate similar to reading, writing and information technology,” notes Chitra Venkatesh, head of education and Global Network Leader at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore. “Young people have a real stake in the world they will inherit and need to build the ability to think critically about environmental issues and find solutions.”
She suggests how parents can nurture environmentally-friendly habits in their kids.
1. Inculcate proper values and beliefs
One way is to instil proper values in kids. Whatever your belief system, it is highly likely it guides you to be grateful for and respect the benefits you receive from the environment, and be mindful of taking only what you need, Chitra says.
“When these values are deeply internalised, they lay the foundation for much needed urgent action towards reducing waste ― be it plastic, food or other materials,” she explains. “These values also drive your child to develop a lifestyle that’s mindful of how nature is impacted, and encourage a habit of giving to support environmental causes.”
It’s also important to remember that values are caught, not taught. Therefore, parents need to set the right example, turning these values into everyday practices for the family.
2. Teach them to distinguish between wants and needs
Teach your child to differentiate between wants and needs, and you’ll go a long way to reduce wasteful consumption.
“Minimising wasteful consumption is an urgent planetary need, to reduce the immense pressure created by human impact on our natural environment,” Chitra points out.
Start by helping your mini-me identify a need versus a want, and how it relates to conservation and sustainability. For example, drinking water may be a need, but long showers is considered a want and can result in an over-consumption of a precious natural resource.
Once your child is able to understand the difference and apply the principle, they will be better able to reduce wastage in various areas of their lives such as food, energy, water and commodity consumption.
3. Foster in them an appreciation and gratitude for nature
These range from regular walks in your neighbourhood park to picnics at Singapore’s many nature spaces.Then document your outdoor adventures on a family social media account, or encourage your little one to record their observations in journals, so that junior will remember their experiences.
“When your family is comfortable spending time outdoors, you can start to volunteer for environmental causes such as beach and park clean-ups, food rescue outings, repair and recycling projects and environmental events,” she suggests.
Once this appreciation for nature has been fostered, you can take things one step further by donating to an environmental cause, or organising a fundraiser as a family.
“Children need to learn how to handle failure much more than getting it right all the time ― this builds their resilience while helping them understand that excelling at most skills takes time, effort and determination.”
4. Teach your child to make informed decisions
Chitra states that critical analysis of evolving information is needed in order to make pro-environment choices.
As there are vast amounts of information available as to what benefits the environment, it can be tough to discern fact from fiction. So, many individuals who want to support environmental causes suffer from an information overload.
Teach your children to be highly selective about the quality of facts they access and consume, Chitra suggests, rather than reacting to or being overwhelmed by too much information.
You can create opportunities for them to evaluate the information needed to make decisions. Such decisions can range from choosing the most environmentally-safe dishwashing soap at the supermarket, to deciding which charitable environmental cause is the right fit for your family.
5. Display leadership and be willing to make mistakes
“This is a great opportunity for parents to demonstrate authentic leadership, by acknowledging their own lack of knowledge and the need to learn about environmental issues together with their child,” Chitra states.
For example, set up a recycling point at home, while mindful of the fact that it may not be successful at first. Recycling may not be an intrinsic habit for your family, so there’s a high chance that you and your kids may forget to recycle after a while.
Nevertheless, press on with your recycling endeavours, and be willing to accept that things might not always work.
“Children need to learn how to handle failure much more than getting it right all the time ― this builds their resilience while helping them understand that excelling at most skills takes time, effort and determination,” Chitra explains. “Let your child take the lead in helping you fix problems as well.”
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