Greening teenagers

Lake monitorsWhat inspires teens to think and act green? 

The teen years are about developing a separate and unique identity from parents. A challenge faced by parents and other caregivers is how best to connect with teenagers in ways that recognize their need for autonomy while guiding them towards becoming environmentally-responsible and mindful adults.

Today’s teens are members of Generation Z. Born after 1995, they represent about 25% of the U.S. population. Recent research has shown that they are pragmatic, digitally hyper-connected, and informed. They are also socially-conscious and entrepreneurial, say researchers.

Be a Model. “The biggest way to demonstrate the importance to your teens of living green is to model good behavior at home,” noted father of a teenager, Jeff. He added, “It’s also important is to make sure you get involved in issues and programs in your community.”

Encourage Volunteerism. “Service and volunteering is increasingly a big deal for teens. It’s something that they know is important, for example, on college applications,” said Kevin McDonald, a father of two teens.

Students encouraging recyclingA 2014 study found 77% of high school students on a national level either extremely or very interested in volunteering. The top three things they reported wanting to get out of it were new skills, work experience, and mentorship/networking.

  • VolunteerMatch.org offers teens and adults volunteering opportunities based on location and interest area.  A recent search turned up 60 environment-related opportunities in the Twin Cities area. Hands on Twin Cities is another good source.
  • DoSomething.org inspires teens to volunteer and take action on causes they care about by providing a ton of fun project ideas and information.
  • Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa offers environment-related service programs for teens age 15-18. Teens in one such program, Youth Outdoors, participate in environmental restoration projects within the Twin Cities. Teens 18 and over are eligible to serve as AmeriCorps members in a variety of settings.
  • Citizen science provides teens with an opportunity to combine volunteerism and the great outdoors. 
  • WaysToHelp.org offers grants (up to $500) to teens in the U.S. to to fund their community service ideas across any one of 16 issue areas, including clean water, land preservation, global warming and recycling.

Expose them to Nature. Exposure to nature can result in a lifelong interest in environmental protection and conservation.

Invite your teen to go on nature walks and hikes, biking, camping, fishing, canoeing, and similar. Involve them in planning outdoor activities that the family can do together. For inspiration and ideas, check out familiesoutdoors.org.

Encourage biking/walking. For many teens, learning to drive a car is a rite of passage. Parents may find themselves under increased pressure to hand over the keys.

Chat with your teen about the environmental impacts of driving. Encourage him to bike or walk to activities and places that are within a reasonable distance. Teach her how to take the bus or other means of public transportation (for the Twin Cities area, click on "How to Ride" at  metrotransit.org).

Plug into their digital world. Smartphones. Gaming systems. Tablets. Laptops. Teens love their gadgets, and being “connected” is virtually a requirement. Unfortunately, the same devices that they adore can be huge energy wasters.

Lots of devices use power even when they’re in standby mode. Ask your teen to unplug her digital devices—and their cords—when they’re done charging. Where possible, install advanced (aka smart) power strips in your home.  

Limit cell phone upgrades. Cell phones require a lot of energy, water, and resources to produce. Require teens to purchase their own devices—they'll probably value and take better care of them if their own money is invested.

Tap into their "techie" sides and save energy by considering such things as solar backpacks and solar chargers. Involve teens in doing research to find the best products. 

Listen, Acknowledge, Engage, and Empower. One of the great things about teens is that they’re not yet adults. They are still forming opinions and behaviors and absorbing information that will guide them in their adult years.

“Teens are sensitive about the increasing amount of news regarding the potential for environmental collapse”, said Kevin. " They can find it overwhelming and depressing," he added.

Yet, says Kevin, it's still important to talk with teenagers about environmental issues, even if it's in small bites.

Look for opportunities to engage them in conversations about environmental topics and issues. Ask for their opinions and ideas. Encourage them to be creative problem-solvers. Point out how personal choices (purchasing, transportation, energy use) can have an impact, and what they can do to make a difference.

DoingGoodTogether.org has activities, book lists, and discussion questions for families.