THEY can make a difference !

In today’s education, a student is often taught the interactions of the natural world and the prospects of protecting and improving the environment. This is necessary as it hopes that the next generation is committed and capable in creating an ecologically sustainable future. However, this strategy does not address the serious environmental problems of today, and the parents and grandparents of today determine the effects of these problems.

Many environmental educators reckon the need to focus on adults to resolve the current environmental problems, even though there are formidable barriers to adult education. There is often very little time, or funding and resources to keep an adult as a captive audience, and as such, adult educational programs are unlikely to succeed at promoting widespread environmental action in the near future.

There is a potential solution.


How often have we seen ourselves, as children, influence our parent’s attitudes, behavior and knowledge? Are we not guilty of deciding what’s for dinner just because “today is my diet day”, or teaching our parents the intricacies of the Internet and Facebook? It is through influences such as these that identify us as the ‘ideal educators’ for the current generation to be the solution to the problems of today.

Early studies done on the prospects of intergenerational learning found that the information transfer between parent and child is often unreliable, and the information transferred is generally vague (Uzzel, 1994) when the involvement of the parent in a child’s learning is “superficial”. By “superficial”, the parent is often found to have spent very little time or effort with the child’s learning; with most parents involved only through the completion of schoolwork, and reading of pamphlet or booklets.

However, a more recent study by Porter, Dwyner, Cobern and Oliver (1997), showed that parent-child participation in environmental activities, such as recycling cans, can result in a greater change in their behavior and concerns for the environment in comparison to the earlier study. Asides from participating in environmental activities, other studies (Ballantyne et al, 1998) also found that student-parent communication had an impact on learning, and that student-parent discussions often yielded satisfactory results if the discussions were frequent (2-month period) and intensive (1.5 hours per session).

In short, to have our parents believe in being pro-environmental, one would need to either get them physically involved or to talk their ears off, which, ironically, is very similar to their behavior towards us.


Duvall. J., & Zint. M. (2007). A Review of Research on the Effectiveness of Environmental Education in Promoting Intergenerational Learning. The Journal of Environmental Education, 38,14-22.

Ballantyne, R., Connel, S., & Fien, J. (1998). Factors contributing to intergenerational communication regarding environmental programs: Preliminary research findings. Australian journal of Environmental Education, 14, 1-10

Uzzel, D. (1994). Chlildren as catalysts of environmental change (Final rep). London, England: European Commission Doirectorat General for Science Research and Development Joint Research Centre.


5 comments so far

  1. kohx01 on

    Hello =)

    I’ve never thought of us children as ‘ideal educators’ actually, but thinking about it now, we actually do influence, even if a little, our parents’ behavior and attitudes. I taught my parents the wonders of MSN and Skype and I even got my mum into watching television dramas!

    Also, I definitely agree that participation and hands on activities would be more effective in the changing of behaviour towards the environment. I think, being directly involved in protecting the environment will give us a sense of attachment towards the environment. Clearly, we would feel more saddened when witnessing with our own eyes the sight of a lake polluted with trash, than reading about them in books and pictures. At the scene, we can see for ourselves dead fishes afloat, smell the stench of the trash in the water; these would cause us to understand the consequences of our actions and to act emotionally in protecting the environment.

  2. Belle Lyons on

    Thanks for your interesting post.

    It is clear that attitudes of children can influence their parent’s behaviour and attitudes – you just need to look at the TV advertising of hideously unhealthy junk foods decorated with popular cartoon characters!

    The article written by Duvall and Zint states that school environmental education programs only slightly influence parental knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. The success of the programs seemed to be most significantly related to:

     Whether the activities had a homework component – therefore involving parents.
     How much the children enjoyed the activities – the higher the enjoyment, the greater the success.
     How hands-on activities were – the more hands on the better.
     How solution based the activities were – it was found that children were encouraged to develop solutions to environmental problems, they were more likely to engage in discussions with their parents.

    So….someone needs to develop some fun, hands on homework projects that involve parents and involves solving problems!

    I believe that doing science type things with kids is always more fun when they get to make something, or get to make a mess.

    For primary aged kids, maybe each child could build a ‘recycling man/dog/horse/dragon…’. The homework for each child would be to collect household recyclable items (cans, plastic bottles, paper, print cartridges, old mobile phones) and then create a recyclable artwork at home with their parents. Then take them into school, have a competition and then put them in a recycling bin. Kids love playing with rubbish!

    The problem could be to find at least 5 different categories of recyclable items – which would require the help of parents.

    For older children, this could include a written project on what recyclable items they used, what products they are recycled into, and the damage done the environment if these products aren’t recycled.

    It is important to continue to investigate ways in which children can act as catalysts for promoting environmental knowledge, attitudes, and changed behaviours in their parents. Not only will this ensure the protection of the environment in the future, but also in the present.

  3. caitlinmurray9 on

    This is a really interesting paper, and very well written blog. I totally see how children can be used as a way to get parents or other family members involved. I think we get pretty passionate over certain things when we are young, and I know for a fact i’ve got my parents to do things that they probably wouldn’t have ever done. It is definitely another source that many environmental groups have used to increase their message, kids are eager to learn new things (usually) and then tell their parents about it.

  4. Cody Evans on

    I agree that there is a generational gap on environmental attitudes. A child growing up now will be greatly exposed to pro-renewable and environmental conservative attitudes through either the media or their school. Their parents however were most likely not exposed to the same societal attitudes.
    Currently my group’s client, ‘the western regional metropolitan council’ has had considerable success at a regional level by educating primary school children about the importance of not throwing batteries into the general waste. This message which has been passed on from the children to the parents has made an impact at a community level.
    This message was communicated to the children through interactive hands on presentations , and shows that children can be and are effective communicators of an environmental message, and that parents infact do listen to their children.

  5. James Campbell on

    Well written article that made me think, especially after just reading an article about how difficult it is too change the attitudes of adults. It probably is one of the very few ways to get to adults, especially if the pressure is on going. By this I mean that if environmental values are taught in schools early, and maintained throughout all the school years of a child, they will not only have sympathy for the view point but by the time they get to year 12 I am sure they could put forward a pretty convincing argument.

    From my own experience as a country student where I spent my first 7 schooling years in a small local school I could add a different perspective on this. In a small country town in that time recycling was unheard of and excursions that maybe city kids spent planting trees, we spent on a bus to see the city (before boarding school I had only been to Perth 5 times!). This is probably why I do not enjoy planting trees and find recycling a chore. Living in an all boys boarding house for a further 5 years probably did nothing for environmental appreciation as well, as it was seriously uncool.

    Having said this I have grown up in the bush and have an enormous appreciation for it and the environment, and there is nowhere else that I feel home. I just find it hard to stomach “clean, green” strategies and the spin that goes with it. I just wonder whether this attitude could be changed if I have kids and they try to swing me round as is suggested in this article.

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