When most people think about social change or environmental change they probably think about activist groups or UN summit meetings. Both play an important role. But what about parenting? As a sociologist, I am constantly reminding my students that parents are powerful agents of socialization even in a world driven by media and advertising. I know it may be overwhelming to hear, but you are the most important factor in determining your child's most deeply held beliefs and most of those beliefs will form before your child turns two!
A few years ago I wrote a book titled "Environmental Belief Formation in Children" based on research I conducted as a graduate student. I'll save you a boring read and just tell you that I found what many others have found which is that children's beliefs about the environment are most substantially impacted by the people and the places we interact with as very young children. For environmental educators this largely means that effective programming addresses not only the children but the parents and the home. Short-lived educational programs do not matter nearly as much as the daily interaction children have with their parents and play room.
As a parent, you should really ask yourself whether the life you live reflects health and sustainability. Do your children watch you shop for the lowest price shirt at the big box store or do they see you research and ultimately purchase organic natural fiber clothing from a family owned company? When you play with your children do you play with cheap plastic toys or do you surround them in natural wooden toys?
In addition to what you say and do, your home and yard speak as well. Research has shown that children who live in safe and sustainable environments tend to create them as adults. It is a simple case of socialization. Do you have a carpet in your nursery showcasing the latest action figure or did you purchase an upcycled natural fiber rug? What does your child's play space look like? Does it look like a television screen and a video game console or have you surrounded them with natural creative play things and healthy active toys?
More important than the actual example you set for your child as a consumer and citizen is the degree to which you communicate the choices you make. Don't just buy an upcycled rug for your child's room. Explain why you purchased what you purchased. Show your child a picture of the artisan or even introduce the child to the artisan. Your children will learn from your example alone, but if you communicate the importance of the choices you make, it will have a far more lasting impact.
So the question I think we all face is "where to start." Parenting is a long journey and we rarely have the time or energy to do all we know we should do all of the time. My wife and I have done a great deal to set our lives and our home apart as healthy and sustainable, but we have a long way to go. What are you doing to raise an eco conscious child in a toxic word? What suggestions would you share with all of us who are doing our best but not there yet? Let's get a discussion going we can all learn from!!
Vincent M. Smith