Potential in Children:
The importance of information-sharing
by Ruby Roth
Recycling, reusable bags, raw food. Cruelty-free cosmetics, fair-trade products, holistic healing. Did your parents or grandparents engage in any of these practices? Perhaps, like me, your mom was a vegetarian long before you were born. But for most of us, these concepts were born of contemporary concerns and unprecedented environmental and health issues. Yet here we are, a global community of concerned individuals sharing a lexicon of relatively new conscious and eco-friendly practices. It happened in less than a generation.
As the green movement grows, more parents want to include their children—the next generation—in issues and decisions relevant to the family's diet and lifestyle. But the topics that need explaining have also changed in less than a generation. They've become ever more complicated than recycling, flipping off light switches, and turning off the tap while we brush. Today, we're dealing with disentangling our lives from big agriculture, big pharmaceuticals, chemical pervasiveness, and reversing an arguably irreversible ecological crisis. We're going green inside and out, turning our intentions towards psycho-spiritual-ecological-planetary healing!
In our generation, we have learned so much that the question is usually not about what to tell kids, but when and how.
The great news is that kids are capable of much more than our society gives them credit for. This idea is key to remember as we encourage green potential in our little ones. We tend to shelter kids from the "adult" world, catering to a concept of childhood that seeks to protect the fragility that we imagine children inherently possess. But kids are more competent and sturdy than we think they are. I've been told repeatedly by surprised parents that their children reacted with curiosity—not fear—when they learned about complex, difficult issues like factory farming. Kids learn when we teach them!
The path to a greener future lies in actively engaging children. I believe it is more about adults' willingness to share than it is about kids' abilities to learn. In my experience, when you provide children the information they need to make educated choices, they choose wisely. Together, we can look at the forces that shape our thinking, like McDonald's commercials and school textbooks.
We can involve kids in the everyday choices we make about food, clothing, products, and entertainment. Discussing the motives behind picking chemical-free shampoo, preparing a meatless meal, using homeopathic medicines, shopping at local farmer's markets, even purchasing a birthday gift for a friend (you can "adopt" an elephant in his or her name!)—these are great opportunities to normalize green habits and fulfill the potential we have as a society to revolutionize the status quo.
Kids like to feel empowered—in the kitchen learning about the power of a superfood, at the store on a mission for biodegradable soap, in the garden planting seeds. When you speak frankly to children about problems and solutions (disease and wellness, pollution and clean-up, pesticides and organics), they feel like they're being let in on a secret and they pay attention. Children feel empowered when we say, "I have something important to share with you and I want your opinion." In turn, they learn to form values on their own. But they can't make choices if they don't know there are any.
If you catch yourself shying away from a subject your kids should be aware of—be it water waste, world hunger, or animal abuse—don't avoid the moment. Dive in. It's great fun! Kids' insights and ideas are astounding. Just focus on information that will be useful and relevant to your child. The facts you share shouldn't be solely negative but constructive. Your child needs to be able to do something with their new knowledge. If you discuss the abuse of circus animals, you might calmly and frankly say, "I just learned that circus trainers often hit the animals with hooks. I'm not sure what to do about it. What do you think?" Listen for good ideas and offer other solutions: signing online petitions; boycotting a class trip to the circus; or volunteering at a sanctuary instead. The most important lesson is that we don't have to fear anything we have the power to change.
I was recently asked, "My children understand why our family is vegan, but how do I explain why other people eat animals?" Any answer that speaks the truth is appropriate. For example, "Not everyone knows that eating animals hurts animals. And some don't care." It's the truth! If that perturbs your child, you might suggest that they do something to change it by sharing what they know, like writing school reports, holding a bake sale fundraiser for a sanctuary, or sharing a vegan recipe with their classroom.
By meaningful inclusion, we can begin encouraging children to do what they are actually capable of, psychologically, spiritually, and physically. The worldwide progress we've made so far is due, after all, to information sharing. In fact, here in Los Angeles, our high participation rate in the city's recycling program is in part owed to the education of school children who lobbied for their parents' involvement.
We can't afford to wait for this next generation to grow up before teaching them how and why we need to live consciously. If we can replace the fear of scaring our kids with the joyful experience of participation and activism, we will be teaching them the full spectrum of what it means to be green: learning to love deeply, think critically, and act responsibly. This kind of education lasts a lifetime. If we've come so far in our own generation, imagine what the next will do.
Ruby Roth is a Los Angeles-based activist, artist, writer, and former teacher whose children's books have received international attention for their sensitive yet frank advocacy of a vegan diet and lifestyle. She is the author of, That's Why We Don't Eat Animals (2009, North Atlantic Books). Her second book, Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action, teaches kids about the everyday power of people to create a healthier, more sustainable and peaceful world. Learn more at www.VeganIsLove.com.
Join Ruby Roth at the Vegan is Love Book Launch Action Party, Saturday, May 5, 2012 from 1-3 p.m., at the new PETA Los Angeles headquarters (2154 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026). The event will feature a book reading and signing as well as kid-activist action stations, button-making, animal-character photo ops, and free treats. RSVP to email@example.com.