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Teach Your Teens: Passing Environmental Responsibility to Our Children

This is a guest post by Daniel Sherwin, creator of

Today’s teenagers have been raised in a throw-away society little concerned with sustainability or long-term projections of environmental damage. The effects of global warming, erratic weather patterns, and other signs of environmental upset have brought the need for a more widespread environmental consciousness into view.

Thanks to the news and public debate over how to protect the environment, young people are more aware of the problem than in the past, but have little knowledge of how to help or where to start. That’s where parents must enter the picture. Ultimately, protecting the environment is everyone’s responsibility and young people have a part to play. But they need to be shown how to live in a sustainable, eco-conscious manner at home. Otherwise, the importance of living eco-friendly will be lost on them.

Right in your own backyard

There’s no better place to teach them than in your own backyard. Spend time with your teen doing some gardening and explaining how renewable resources help the environment and what sustainability means. Visit parks, go fishing, take a hike in the woods, or plan a family camping trip so you can show your child why the environment is important to everyone and why it’s worth protecting. That way, when you ask them to separate recyclables from the trash, they may not roll their eyes and tune you out.


Today, about 75 percent of Americans recycle. Explain to your children that people choose to help the environment in this way because it cuts down on the amount of waste that has to be disposed of in landfills and why non-biodegradable waste presents such a challenge to the environment. Show them pictures of birds with plastic rings from discarded beverage holders around their necks and explain it in the context of environmental destruction. Sometimes, appealing to a young person’s emotions is the best way to get an important message across. Make sure your teen knows how to separate garbage from recycling and that he’s willing to take responsibility for it.

Food responsibility

Food waste is another major environmental problem, a waste of resources that a young person may not understand. Teens have grown up accustomed to throwing away what they don’t want to finish on their plate - one of the more regrettable consequences of the disposable society that we’re all paying for today. Make sure your child knows how to preserve leftover food and beverages rather than instinctively throwing them away. Don’t forget to explain water wastage and why it’s important to turn the tap off when you’re not using it. Letting the water run while you run off to answer a phone call or respond to a text is an example of water waste that a teenager is sure to understand (you can also conserve water by installing low-flow faucets and toilets).

Air pollution and green-friendly transport

Most teenagers look forward anxiously to earning their driver’s license and the freedom to go where they want, whenever they want. Unfortunately, that expectation has taught a generation of young Americans a dangerous lesson, one that harms the environment and contributes significantly to global warming. Car exhaust is one of its largest contributors.

Gardening and tree replacement

Teaching your children the joys of gardening is an excellent way to demonstrate environmental responsibility. It makes it easier to understand that massive deforestation represents a major environmental threat and that the widespread destruction of forestlands around the world is dangerous and unacceptable.

Environmental preservation has become a major cultural battleground in recent years. The best hope to protect our precious natural resources is to empower our young people with knowledge and instill them with a love of nature. As parents, we have a responsibility to the world in which we live.

To share these concepts with your students or children, check out our FREE programs: SafetySmart Science: Renewable Energy and Safety Smart Goes Green.


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