Adolescents are full of contradictions. (That may be the understatement of the year, or decade, or century.) One minute they seem oblivious to pretty much anything going on around them, and another minute they are motivated activists looking to change the world. When they are the former, their lack of awareness can lead to less than ideal behaviors and habits. When they are the latter, they can have a huge impact.
Earth Day is a great opportunity to empower teens to make a difference for our planet. Here are a few ways to go green.
1. Take shorter showers.
Long, steamy showers seem to be a rite of teen passage. But if they become a habit, that can mean a lot of water. Encourage teens to keep showers a little shorter by keeping it fun; get bathroom-safe speakers that they can use with their phone and limit shower time to the length of a couple of favorite few songs. *If hygiene is an issue, perhaps skip this one.
Added bonus: You won’t run out of hot water and you’ll have lower water bills.
2. Be part of a beach clean-up.
Kids may not be great about cleaning up their rooms, but joining in a community beach clean-up is more fun and empowering. Shedd Aquarium hosts clean-ups at 63rd Street Beach, 12th Street Beach, Montrose Beach and Kathy Osterman Beach throughout the year. Find more info about their Great Lakes Actions Days here.
Added bonus: It may just inspire teens to clean up at home, too.
3. Unplug, literally.
Wanting kids to unplug not only means less screen time, it’s also about wanting them to unplug their chargers for their devices when they aren’t using them. Chargers continue to use power even when a device is fully charged, and even when a device isn’t plugged into them, earning them the title of “energy vampires.”
Added bonus: You can lower electricity bills and won’t overcharge devices, which can impact their battery life.
4. Get outside.
Studies show that kids who spend time outside demonstrate more environmentally responsible behavior and attitudes as adults. The more connected to nature kids feel, the more they want to take care of it. So take a walk in a forest preserve, spend some time in a nearby park or head to the beach. You don’t have to go far or for too long.
Added bonus: Tweens and teens often open up and start talking when on a walk or a hike with no other distractions around.
5. Use a water bottle, and hang on to it.
Reusable water bottles are better for the environment than single use plastic bottles, and water bottle refilling stations are popping up all over. The trick is making sure your kids hang onto their bottle. Let them select one they love, preferably in a bright color that’s easy to keep track of and clearly label it. You can also set a reminder for them to double check that they have it before leaving somewhere.
Added benefit: Drinking more water is great for your kids.
6. Ditch the straw.
When eating out, it’s pretty typical to get a straw with drinks. That’s how Americans use 500 million straws every day. That’s the same weight as 1,000 cars. Over time, that really adds up. Imagine that trash that would not be produced by kids over their lifetime if they made the switch to either reusable straws, recyclable paper straws or no straws. The Shedd Aquarium’s Shedd the Straw program now includes 100 participating restaurants, and your family is more than welcome to join in.
Added benefit: There will be healthier animals in the ecosystem.
7. Use reusable bags
Reusable bags are significantly better than the alternative. I confess that I am bad about leaving my reusable grocery bags at home so I’ve started keeping them in the car. And my teen has found a reusable lunch bag that she likes.
Added benefit: You’ll have less clutter at home.
8. Eat local.
Start a garden. Tweens and teens are completely capable of handling the responsibility, and you might be surprised at the pride they take in what they grow. Visit a farmers’ market near you to find food grown in the area that didn’t require a lot of fossils to get to you.
Added benefit: Encourage your kids to talk with the farmers; they’re happy to share info and are really personable.
9. Make smoothies.
Speaking of eating, food waste is a big issue. Although tweens and teens are known for eating a lot, they sometimes get picky about fresh fruit and veggies that are past their prime. The folks at Smarter point out that throwing away bad food is not just wasting the food itself, it also wastes the water and energy it took to produce the food and bring it to market. Teach them a few smoothie recipes and encourage them to get creative on their own — it’s a delicious way to reduce waste.
Added benefit: Kids are getting valuable nutrients and you saving some money by not tossing food you’ve already paid for just to buy something else.
10. Talk to your kids.
Ask your kids what they think they and your family can do to be better stewards of our resources this Earth Day and beyond. They may have great insight and ideas.
Added benefit: Including them in the conversation about conservation sends an important message and empowers them to come up with their own actionable ideas.
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This story originally published on April 16, 2018. It has been updated with the most recent information.