Teaching Kids to Give a Hoot

I saw a beautiful white egret sitting on a shopping cart in the North River this morning. Isn’t that litter in a nutshell? The purity of nature faced with the ridiculous detritus of our society?

It sums up for me what irritates me so much about litter. It is so unnecessary, so selfish, and so conspicuous. All the things that I don’t want to teach my child as a father.

Unnecessary: I am amazed at all the garbage receptacles around today. Honestly, they’re everywhere. And amazingly, even the ones literally on the city streets (at least in small-town Massachusetts) are emptied regularly. There are trash cans everywhere. And yet, there’s still litter. Lots.

Selfish: What says louder that the world is my living room, than simply throwing my trash away from me when I’m finished with it? Isn’t this how we picture almost cartoon-like rich people dealing with their servants? Robber-barons, and the like? And yet if you look around you, trash is everywhere.

Conspicuous: Litter is just so obvious. In this day and age. We can rent all the Inconvenient Truth we want, but when the rubber hits the road, when we have (recyclable) trash lying all over the sides of the road, the beaches, etc., then it’s obvious how we feel about our environment.

But back to parenting. How do we, as parents who want to encourage our kids to get outdoors, make sure to teach them not to litter? I’ll offer another little “trinity,” this time one of solutions. Awareness, Empowerment, and Modeling.

The first step has to be awareness. I found once I taught my daughter how litter affected the animals she cares so much about, she was more than interested in litter, to the point that she’ll chide me for not picking up others’ litter when I walk by it. Once our kids know that it is wrong to litter, and learn to spot it, and learn the implications of it (fish, birds, and 6-pack rings is always a good one for the heartstrings), they naturally want to avoid it and actively do something.

That’s where empowerment comes in. When we teach them to be aware, they want to make a change. But they’re kids, and they’re not used to having the power to act. Teach your kids what to do when they see litter. Of course teach them it’s dirty; of course teach them safety about glass, etc. But show them where litter can go. Show them recycling, show where trash barrels are. For example, there are no barrels directly on the beach, so my five-year-old might not know what to do about trash on the beach. When I show her that we can carry it in a bag and throw it away as we walk towards the car, though, she learns what to do.

As with everything else, kids will do what they see us do. I hope that by seeing me take a trash bag along with us to the beach, by sorting recycling with me, and whatever else I can come up with on the spur-of-the-moment, I can teach my daughter to live more in tune with our environment. To raise a child easier on the earth than my generation is, even though we saw plenty of crying Native Americans on TV growing up.

Littering is ridiculous. The trick comes in teaching our kids to empower themselves with it, rather than feeling defeated by it. To laugh at the joke, in other words.

Because the thing is, nature created egrets with nice long legs that reach to the bottom of the water. They don’t need shopping carts to stand on.




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