How To Raise Children Who Want to Save the World (It’s Easier Than You Think)

There are many difficult topics that we, as parents, must discuss with our kids at some point in time. The list is seemingly endless — and overwhelming. We wonder: how do we introduce these topics not unnecessarily too soon, but also before they’ve heard the information from another source? How do we shelter our children from harsh truths, while also preparing them for reality? How do we delicately explain things to them, while also being authentic in our delivery? Most dauntingly, how do we give them the priceless gift of a carefree childhood while also giving them the life skills to be ready for adulthood? This is the delicate balance that every parent works to achieve. The fear that we’re “not doing it right” is what sometimes keeps us up at night. Even though my daughter is only one and has just mastered saying “baby”, “dada” and “mama”, I know she is taking in all the information around me. I know my job ahead of explaining the world to her and helping her understand its many difficult truths is a big one.

So what do we tell our kids about climate change and pollution, about the environmental problems they will inherit from us? In a world where many companies have chosen profits over people, where the prospect of not going above two degrees Celsius feels unachievable at times, where, with the incoming administration the prospect of future climate progress can feel bleak — what do we say? How do we say it? We certainly don’t want to frighten our children, but during this critical time in our history, when the actions we take (or don’t take) will decide the climate future for so many generations that follow ours, it seems only fitting that raising inspired, active, engaged children is one way we can actually change the world.

Jana with her daughters

That’s why I was incredibly relieved when I saw a recent piece published on AlterNet by Sightline’s Anna Fahey, containing real life examples on how to talk to your children, and how parents had talked to their children about climate change. Working with Parentmap, a site that provides resources for parents on all kinds of topics, AlterNet compiled the wisdom of climate activists, scientists and colleagues from all over the Pacific Northwest, Standing Rock and British Columbia.

We’re especially pleased that our very own Climate Program Director, Jana Gastellum, was featured in this piece. As OEC’s main climate expert and a mother to two beautiful girls, she had a unique perspective to offer. Jana writes:

“My nine-month-old came with me to a bill signing for a renewable energy bill Oregon passed. After my three-year-old saw photos, she wanted to “play bill signing.” We talked about what laws are (they set the rules for how we do things), how laws are made (everyone should have a voice, but there are bad guys who sometimes stop good things from happening), and that the governor ultimately gets to sign bills. She, of course, wanted to be the governor.”

What you’ll see from reading Jana’s piece and others, is that the parents featured don’t necessarily have all the answers (do we ever?), but they’re committed to instilling within their kids a certain consciousness about the world around them, an awareness that the world is bigger than themselves, that we’re part of a global community, and that there’s a responsibility that comes with that. These first lessons provide the foundation for living a life committed to being a part of the solution. Through reading the wisdom of these parents, I realized that I don’t have to have all the answers either. I just have to raise my daughter to care. That’s still a big job, but it’s not daunting. That’s a job we can do, one day at a time. 

Click here to read the wisdom of 10 environmental activists (who are also parents) on how to talk to your kids about climate change. If you have any additional thoughts or advice on this ever-evolving topic, please leave your feedback in the comments below!

– Devon Downeysmith, Project Manager, Climate Communications

Devon hiking with her baby

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