How to Talk to Kids about Global Warming and Environmental Issues

Me and my kids!

How Should I Talk with my Kids about Global Warming and the Environment?

This weekend we’ve been doing a lot of family activities. We watched a movie together Friday night, worked on homework today, have a barbecue planned for tomorrow, and I made sure to spend some individual time talking with each of the kids over the weekend.

And it got me thinking about something I’ve put a lot of thought to lately — how should I talk be talking with my kids about global warming and the environment?

There are so many sides to the issue. So many different things to discuss. Some of the issues can be pretty scary, too.

They’ll have to face serious issues later. Should they be exposed to them now?

My kids are going to likely live for a long time. They could live to the year 2100 maybe — far past peak oil, potentially. Far past other resources running out. Who knows what other issues they’ll have to do deal with. Whatever the issues are, I’m sure they’re more complicated than I can imagine today sitting on the back porch with a beer after a big spaghetti dinner.

Some of the issues are embarrassing to me. Like species extinction — what if polar bears go extinct in my lifetime? How can I explain that? Should I say I stood by and just watched? But on the other hand, what really can I do? Sometimes there are so many things to deal with that I just feel overwhelmed.

Focus on Values Now.

So here’s what I’ve decided. I’ll focus on values – values and the behaviors that align with them.

Like today, I was talking to my son about some juice packs we got. We purchased Rip & Sip packs instead of normal juice boxes. They use innovative sip-top packaging instead of the regular juice boxes — they’re recyclable and they’re made using less materials. Normal juice boxes can’t be recycled, but these can.

So I described it to my son in simple terms:

“Is it better to drink from a juice box that uses more materials — or one that uses less materials?”, I asked. Of course, he said “less”. Then I asked, “Is it better to have juice boxes that can be recycled? Or not recycled?” — and again he got the right answer. After he finished the juice pack, I made sure he knew to put the waste in our recycle bin.

In this way, I was communicating our family’s values to him. Values are fundamental beliefs about what’s right and wrong — we believe that recycling and consuming fewer materials is important. And now, so does he.

There are other values that are important as well. We covered these in more detail in the essay, The New Values of the 21st Century Citizen, one of the early posts on this website. I hope you’ll take some time to read that post if you’re a relatively new reader here.

Complex theories about global temperatures rising are too complicated for kids. And probably too scary — those issues are for us grown ups. They’re our battles to fight – for now. Our kids will take up that battle when they’re ready.

For now, we just need to teach them the difference between right and wrong from an environmental perspective. Armed with those values, they’ll learn to change the world when they’re old enough.

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5 thoughts on “How to Talk to Kids about Global Warming and Environmental Issues

  1. Pingback: ecoTumble » How to Talk to Your Kids About the Environment

  2. Pingback: Johnny K – Environmental Education

  3. Leading by example has worked very well with my children. Although I’ve never really explained it to them, apart from answering the questions that they’ve asked, both are competent at sorting the recycling, they know what can and what can’t be recycled. They don’t even bother asking for stuff that comes in packaging that’s not recyclable any more.
    My 11 year old son loves pointing out PVs and wind turbines, adding a approving word or two.
    My 3 year old daughter is a competent vegetable gardener, and loves reusing various bits and pieces in her art installations. She always reminds people to switch lights off as they leave a room, even though she can’t reach the light switch herself.
    I’m very proud of them, as you can probably tell, my little eco-warriors.

  4. Thanks for this post. Parents need to recognize that it’s time to have the talk about the birds and the bees (literally, the birds and the bees). Kids are hearing all this scary stuff through the media and at school, and parents want to make sure their kids are getting the right message: one that combines accurate, age-appropriate information with hope. Plus,if parents don’t talk about it, kids are going to feel more anxious and helpless.

    My company just published a book that can help parents and kids in this endeavor: A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids. It’s endorsed by Bill McKibben, U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee, and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. It provides parents with an overview/crash course on global warming, and it gives kids an opportunity to learn about climate change, to develop strategies to fight it, and to adopt a proactive, hopeful attitude.

    Thanks for your post and for raising this important issue.

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