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Teaching children ‘planetary’ boundaries

Campaigner Anya Hart Dyke’s tips for teaching kids the global impacts of everyday decisions
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Teaching children planetary boundaries

Have you heard the one about the stranded starfish?

Once upon a time a huge storm washes thousands of starfish onto a beach, stranding them. A little boy starts to put them back into the ocean, one by one, when a man approaches him and says ‘it won’t make a difference’.

The little boy picks up another starfish, throws into the sea and replies, ‘well it did for that one’.

Every time we buy something, we make a choice – and every time we decide against buying something, we make a difference. I call this setting ‘planetary’ boundaries – for our children and for us.

Keep it simple

Thinking about what we buy and don’t buy is an easy entry point for children because they love their stickers, their trucks, their sequin tops and their gadgets.

What parent doesn’t want a reason to avoid those mindless, plastic tat-filled children’s magazines, those desperately uncreative sticker books, another toy craze spreading like wildfire across the school playground?

Keep it simple, especially with younger children. Essentially, the factories that make the toys they love use lots of energy, which is usually produced by burning fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas).

These toys often come from very far away, travelling on big ships that need fuel to get to us. The smelly air produced by factories and ships – remind them that they will have smelled it when a car goes past – can damage our lungs and our brains and is changing our climate.

Why to buy less

If you explain to your child why buying less is important, they are more likely to sustain these better habits into their adult future. This is because of the fuzzy, buzzy feeling we get when we make good choices – called ‘hedonic’ wellbeing.

What’s more ‘eudemonic’ wellbeing, feeling a sense of purpose in day-to-day life, should mitigate against the eco-anxiety young people are reportedly feeling about the climate crisis.

And there are other benefits too. Sharing toys and games – I have a designated shelf in my kitchen to keep up with what we need to return to people – builds cooperative relationships among peers.

Lessons in resourcefulness

Making rather than buying things – kites, dens, cardboard rockets, papier-mâché unicorn heads – reaches parts of the brain that shop-bought kits and toys doesn’t and teaches children to be resourceful.

Thinking of fun things to do with friends and family, instead of exchanging gifts, guides
children to value loved ones for who they are, not what they give you.

Your child will still be stimulated, feel loved and develop in all the right ways without a house crammed with toys. So don’t doubt yourself when they kick back against these boundaries.

Like good table manners, listening to your teacher and being on time for school, this isn’t a choice.

This isn’t about ‘going green’ or ‘caring about the environment’: this is about taking responsibility for our impact and our choices. And that is something even children understand because we are, after all, always talking about the consequences of our actions in other areas of our lives.

Our throwaway society – raising children to consume wisely by Anya Hart Dyke is now available to purchase online here (a preview is available)

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