We all want to give things to our children. But millions of other parents feel the same way about their own kids—which means an epidemic of wastefulness is upon us. It’s ironic because your children are part of a generation that possesses more knowledge and professes more concern about the state of our planet than any other—but they’re also part of a generation for whom “going without” and “making do” are often foreign concepts.
Think about the message your child receives when you automatically hand her fresh white paper for drawing and she tosses it aside as she wishes. Then think about the message you send by asking her if she’s in the mood to create a really special drawing or if she just wants to doodle and sketch a little—and then directing her to a nicely maintained stack of scrap paper if she answers the latter. There is absolutely no downside, and there are so many positives: You’ve initiated a conversation (brief, but still a conversation!) and expressed interest in her plans, you’ve modeled the values of conservation and reusing, you’ve provided her with appropriate materials for making art, and you’ve given her an opportunity to reflect on how what she wants intersects with the larger good.
Our kids spend so much time at the center of our worlds that we can’t blame them for assuming they’re the center of the entire universe. But they’re not—and it’s good for our kids (as well as for the planet) to teach them this fact while they’re still young. So don’t be afraid to consider something greater than your child’s desires when making decisions—and to let her know you’re doing so. A few example:
- “I hear you want to use new paper, but that would be wasteful. This paper has printing on one side, but it’s perfectly clean on the other, and that’s really all you need for doodling.”
- “I know this sweater fell on the floor of your closet, but that doesn’t mean it’s dirty. It’s wasteful to wash clothes that are still clean, so please hang it back up.”
- I see Mia has a new backpack, but your backpack is in great shape. It would be wasteful to buy you a new backpack when you don’t need one.”
I’m not saying your child will be thrilled to hear you say no—but she will be intrigued by your reasoning and may even get on board if you take the time to explore issues of wastefulness and conservation with her. It’s pretty astounding to consider, for example, how much water is wasted by running the washing machine unnecessarily and the impact of wasted water on the planet—and it’s much more appealing to have this conversation with your child than to just nag her to pick up her clothes.
Teaching her that her choices make a lasting impact, that she can influence the world around her, that she has a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than herself is a great gift for your child. And while she may not thank you for reminding her to turn off the lights when she leaves a room, to put the empty bottle of Gatorade she drank after tennis in the recycling bin instead of leaving it on the sofa, and to please get out of the shower before she drains the Atlantic, she will appreciate being reminded that she matters in the world—and that she has a part to play.
“Going green” is a cool enough concept these days that you won’t completely mortify your child by embracing it, and reminding each other to unplug appliances, close the refrigerator door, and throw on a sweater (hey, maybe the one that’s still lying on the floor!) rather than crank up the heat another few degrees can actually be fun. You can even make it a friendly competition and reward the least wasteful person of the week by letting him or her choose a restaurant to try or a new movie to watch.
And who knows—maybe these actions will resonate outside your house: If your child’s school is anything like mine, she probably comes home with regular doom-and-gloom reports about how we’re destroying the planet—but fails to make the connection between this alarming news and the fact that she never remember to turn her closet light off (and I mean ever). Your family’s anti-waste campaign will underscore what your child is learning and could even inspire her classmates to step up too.
Adapted with permission from Your Kid’s a Brat and It’s All Your Fault: Nip the Attitude in the Bud—From Toddler to Tween by Elaine Rose Glickman. @copy; 2016 by Elaine Rose Glickman. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Group, Penguin Random House LLC.