I work with grade school students fairly regularly: STEM club, beach cleanups, science activities related to marine debris… lots of time spent talking about pollution, extinction, climate change, disasters and other environmental bummers. It’s important. They need to know about their world, where we’re at and where we’re headed. It will be their world soon enough and with all of the other activities and interests that compete for their time and (often limited) attention, I think it’s a good idea for them to become familiar with the natural world and the threats it is facing on a continual basis. Children are our future, right?
But there’s a balance to all this, and it’s just as important. When kids are real young, they will often see disasters and tragedies on the news and not be able to differentiate between what is happening to someone else in some other part of the world, and what is going to happen to them. It is easy to overwhelm a kid with stories of doom and desolation, and a cautionary tale about the environment may be perceived by a grade school-aged child as being a personal full-blown Armageddon. They are born with the desire to help fix problems and including them in working toward solutions is good for all involved. In order to help them plan for the future, it is incumbent upon us all to make sure they know that a future actually exists.
But that balance is hard to hit. It takes constant message recalibration, a delicate mixing of hard environmental realities and hope, presented with action items that apply to the age level of the listeners, giving them positive tasks to accomplish in order to get an understanding of what sustainable living is all about. I have an 8 year-old and it’s something that I hear in our conversations all the time. Having a father like the one he’s got, he knows a lot about debris in the ocean, albatross chicks dying with bellies full of plastic, sea turtles and dolphins drowning in ghost nets, illegal fishing and dolphin slaughter. That’s a lot of carnage that needs to be curated in a way that gets the critical messages across without crushing the hope and optimism of youth in the process.
Words matter. Use them wisely.