I just read an article that called our youngest generation the “re-generation” (sorry, can’t find the url), alluding to their familiarity with the reduce, reuse, recycle slogan and their attentiveness to environmental causes. I haven’t found any hard statistics that actually support the idea that the Homelanders will be more environmentally conscious, but OK, I’ll go with the idea that environmentalism is since environmentalism is gradually entering into our psyches over time a sense of urgency and importance might be greater among the young. One thing I learned from judging at the Texas Future Problem Solvers competition this weekend is that the fervent climate change deniers and “drill, baby, drill” knuckleheads are not making inroads into the mindset of the young. From my own experience it does indeed seem as if ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ resonate on a much deeper level and are more actionable and instinctive with our the youngest cohorts.
But there’s another great force that is influencing them equally, and it’s the message they get from marketers of consumer products. I think we will only see the real improvements if we can change or curtail the massive marketing to this generation ($17 billion per year to the tween market alone!). If there is more emphasis on targeting kids as consumers than as environmental stewards the three “Re’s” won’t do much at all because the energy and materials that go into their desired consumer products outnumber their greener achievements. That obviously is true for all generations.
But there’s hope for improvement and the kids are with us. Here are a few things I think will lighten the next generation’s imprint on the environment:
Charity oriented birthday parties. Have you noticed a trend lately where the birthday child asks for donations to a cause in lieu of presents? I think the last year most of the parties my 9-year old was invited to were of this kind. Every one of these parties have helped convince my daughter that she too can have a perfectly fun time with her friends and support a good cause at the same time. This concept is win-win-win on so many levels. For one thing it can provide substantial contributions for the targeted cause. Secondly, it teaches not only your own child, but also her/his friends that it feels good to help. When your child witnesses friends being able to help a cause they believe in your child will become motivated too. I never wanted to force charity birthday on my children afraid it might backfire, but I know they are ready now. And I couldn’t be happier. Birthday parties have always been followed by the headaches of trying to find out where to put their new toys, cajoling them into getting rid of their old ones and cringing at future battles of who’s going to pick up which toys, with me ending up cleaning the pigsties myself. After three kids I feel that when it comes to toys, less is more and quality is king. Charity birthdays take that whole thing out of the equation. Pewh!
Give digital gifts and experiences. I think the biggest obstacle to giving presents that aren’t fortified in clamshell plastics, twist ties and all sorts of mercantile battle zone armor is that they usually can’t be wrapped or gift-bagged. How do you wrap the gift of 10 hours of horseback riding anyway? We – and our kids – have become so mired into thinking that a gift is something physical and tangible and that if they can’t play with it right away, the “givers of experience” are at risk of becoming the ultimate party killers. And nobody want to make their children’s’ birthdays to end like this!
But there is hope. The Homelanders – or Gen Z or regeneration if you will – are digital natives. This means that they make few distinctions on life online and offline. When the dust, eeh curling ribbon settles, they will appreciate a digital gift or in-kind gift just as much as physical ones, if not more. So the eco-obstacle here is not the gift in itself, its the ceremonial aspect of gift giving. If we can overcome that, we can make our gifts far more earth friendly. Maybe by teaching delayed gratification in the form of gift certificates. Another idea might be to confiscate their touch device the night before and download a whole new One Direction/ Justin Bieber playlist and the latest Temple Run apps. Then wrap the device and let them open it on their birthday.
Gamify eco-consciousness. Of course apps and games should not substitute real nature experiences. But we can’t plant trees with our kids everyday, so why not also connect with them at heir most every-day level? USA Today lists some apps related to Earth Day which teach children valuable lessons about the environment and to look for solutions. Obviously these are simplistic versions of a complex problem, but you got to start somewhere. I tried out some of these and I look forward to introducing them to my kindergarteners this afternoon.
Happy Earth Day!