All too often, children are sidelined. They are viewed as powerless dependents, who are merely there to be guarded and protected. But children who are empowered to create change show that they have amazing capacity to truly change the world for the better.
One of the challenges for sustainable progress is ‘otherism’ – the natural result of pluralism and a society of multiple ideas and multiple ideologies. Adults naturally fall into ‘bubbles’ which can limit their ability to see things from outside their own perspective. Young children are less affected by this, and so can often see things from a truly global perspective. The younger they are, the more they can be guided by a pure altruism and desire for simple fairness.
Adults are often ‘gate keepers’ for children. Since children cannot vote, make their own purchasing decisions, or head out into the world on their own, their ability to create sustainable change is, of course, dictated by their parents or guardians to a massive degree.
So, how do we make sure that children are given what they need to become forces for good in this world?
The most important way that we can empower children is, of course, through education.
Whether in a capacity as parents or guardians, or as teachers in an educational environment, it is very important that we teach children:
- To love nature, and value the natural world.
- Their place and value within nature’s ecosystems and cycles.
- The importance of their actions, and the impacts they have on people and planet.
- Simple kindness – to value others and do what we can for one another and the wider world.
- The capacity we have, as humans, to create positive change.
And of course, the practical skills they need to thrive sustainably.
Adults often fall into the trap of saying, ‘do as I say, not as I do or have done’. But children learn best when led by example. While it is, of course, important that children are taught the facts surrounding sustainability, climate change and the global problems we face, it is more important that children grow up with positive role models to emulate.
Creating a safe, nurturing environment for children can allow them not only to follow, but to take the lead on sustainability. Truly empowering children to make sustainable change involves giving them the opportunities they need to flourish and grow. For example, allowing them to take the lead might involve:
- Encouraging and promoting brainstorming and invention – the generation of new ideas.
- Giving children agency to undertake sustainable activities, such as bioblitzes, beach cleans, and conservation projects.
- Providing funding/ transportation or other practical support to allow children to undertake their new ideas or projects.
- Providing enhanced levels of personal space, time and freedom to allow them to explore natural environments, develop new projects, and take the lead.
- Responding in a supportive, encouraging way when a child takes an interest in sustainability, and matching your own behaviours to their own.
Just a few simple measures can make a big difference.