Preparing our children for their future is the most awesome responsibility we can bear. As we discuss global warming, the first thing we can do is listen. It is they who are preparing us - if we choose to hear.
Build-A-Bearville presented a controversial video for kids at Christmas time. It plays in the background as children play the RPG style game at www.buildabearville.com. Perhaps because it is telling your kids that global warming is going to melt the north pole, kill Santa and all the polar bears, it was deemed too political for including in their library.
Asking a few mothers about global warming, I learned no matter how old their children, there is some anxiety about climate change. Some mothers are quite careful about bringing up the subject. Karen Hall in Seattle advises “Be careful about feeding them obsessions. I would not say anything, just put off talking about it because kids can care too much about things and you don’t want them to carry collective guilt. With pre-teens, we just don’t want to add to their emotional burdens. I don’t say anything.” She prefers to listen, but later in conversations she told her teenagers that limiting human population is key. “The people who have the most children are often the least able to properly raise children”. And later her son wants to talk of solar power and federal energy buybacks, and the cost of electricity at different times of the day.
The conversational finesse happens during those teaching moments. The informed dialog can include phrases like “I have no idea”, and “I am not sure how to answer that” and “we don’t know right now”. Honesty is key.
Right now I want to say something like:
I’m sorry… we are all sorry that our climate is gradually getting warmer. This means stronger weather. People and industry are the biggest cause. We have been putting too much pollution into the air. We are trying to fix it and clean it up, but it is very hard to stop. The best we can do is try to make it less bad and try to adjust to the changes. As you grow up, the world will look a little different than today - you might see the sea levels rise, it may be warmer, or wetter or dryer. Sometimes we may have some really bad weather. You are very smart and adaptable. And you will have some good ideas about what to do about it. We want you to be happy and healthy and do what ever you can to find some solutions.
Like any important subject, we must honor the emotions without feeding fear. It should be an authentic dialog using simple, positive words. We want to exchange concerns and useful advice. Kids are worried, and they already know there are not clear solutions. And they need all the support we can give. I am happy that schools are doing all they can - but it is distressing to learn that the influential Texas State Board of education is pushing textbooks that offer “different views on the existence of global warming” and are suppressing the science that “that our climate is warming and that humans are responsible”
Our media is a battleground for the hearts and minds of our children - just like the Joe Camel tobacco campaign…now it is Clean Coal, and pushing out science from common view this is a message war. Popular media disappoints us by ignoring and denying this problem. But the importance of the global warming message is right up there with “look both ways”, “wash your hands”, “cover your cough”. Perhaps we should just add a phrase like “just try to adjust to it”.
Every parent will decide what to say and when. Kim McGilivray in Seattle says “the one story I would want my kids to know to help them face the future is simple: believe your instincts, and let nothing deter you from following them”. We should encourage them only “to grow and expand in the best directions to nourish their souls.”
Julie in Boston says about her grandchildren ( twin toddlers ): “I don’t know whether being wild, smart, etc., will cut it under the circumstances that will exist.”
Pamela, a Seattle mother of 3 young adults - just advises them to “don’t have babies. Get conscious and be aware”.
Laurie, a mother of two teens in Massachusetts advises, “moms get your kids to stop being doped up on their flat screen tv’s and get them into the real 3D world.”
Gail in New Jersey says it with an elegant photo in her blog WitsEnd http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2010/01/oh-this-is-what-i-want-for-children.html
Finally, the concluding words to gifted high school students from climate journalist Ross Gelbspan: to Brookline High School observing the International Day of Climate Action.
If you let yourself be paralyzed by fear, then you will be forfeiting your sense of future - as well as your responsibilities as citizens of the global community. But if you view the climate crisis as the overriding challenge of your generation, it leaves you with two tasks - one to finish and one to begin. If you put your efforts into rewiring the world with clean energy, you will win that battle. The trends are in your favor. And if, in the process, you can take back some of the political power of the coal and oil industries, that will give you the kind of empowerment that is critical to your second task - which is helping create a new kind of society out of the rubble.
You will encounter some chaos and some breakdowns in the future. Some may be frightening. But it is precisely those breakdowns that will create the space for people who can help reconstruct a society which is truly based on principles of social justice. The crisis will be giving you the opportunity to help shape a global society in which exploitation is replaced by much more equality between rich and poor, in which of all the planet’s inhabitants have the right to participate in a truly democratized world and, ultimately, in laying the groundwork for a whole new era of peace - peace among people and peace between people and nature.
But do remember this. You will be pioneers at the leading edge of history. But you will also be flying blind. There is no body of expertise — no authoritative answers — for this challenge. We are crossing a threshold into uncharted territory. And since there is no precedent to guide us, we are left with only our own hearts to consult, whatever courage we can muster, the intellectual integrity to look reality in the eye and an uncompromising dedication to a human future that reflects the combined hopes and ideals of every single person in this room.
— Ross Gelbspan (2009)
It is really not helpful to ignore or suppress the problem. The only thing we should withhold from children is our anxiety — but not withhold our concern. Sharing our thoughts, and speaking to the issue is an expression of our love and our faith in them and their future. Denying facts, avoiding the issue, and steering them away only makes their lives more difficult. This is an important choice.
Wonderful messages aimed at kids:
Site helping inform children of climate change:
Family Science Days during the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5617318652349295608# A teenager’s view of Global Warming. 14 year- old film-maker Ruby Reynolds explores what we’re doing to the planet and what we should be doing, now to slow down the process of global warming.