Forget monsters under the bed: Kids are afraid of global warming

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Forget monsters under the bed: Kids are afraid of global warming

I don’t have kids, exactly. I have two 13-year-old neighbors for whom I am a “sparent” – that means spare parent. They know I work in the sustainability world, and they talk with me about their concerns. Recently when I was thinking about getting a new car, one of them told me I should get a Prius because it helps reduce global warming. They both have told me they wonder what the environment will be like when they get older. And they worry about it.

Turns out they’re not the only ones. I just ran across a couple of studies that show kids are deeply concerned about the environment they’ll inherit. One study by Opinion Research and Habitat Heroes says that one in three kids aged 6 to 11 actually doesn’t think there will be a world when they grow up – we will have destroyed it completely. The planet will simply be gone. More than half of kids worry that the planet will be a really tough place to live because of environmental damage. That’s a lot of stress for an impressionable, vulnerable young person. They fear for their very existence.

A different survey of middle-schoolers conducted by BrainPop found that these kids feared the consequences of global warming more than terrorism, war or cancer. In fact, almost three-quarters reported that they worry about how global warming will directly impact their lives. 60% feel that more needs to be done in their communities to mitigate global warming.

As these children grow up, they will be likely to adopt green behaviors, since they already exhibit green attitudes. In addition, these children will be what some anthropologists call “natives” meaning they grew up with the idea and threat of global warming, understand the topic and incorporate actions into their daily lives more seamlessly than those people who didn’t grow up with it.

In our upcoming Eco Pulse study, we clearly see that almost half of children and parents are discussing green issues from energy conservation to global warming – and those conversations are having an impact on household choices. In fact, two thirds of those parents who are talking about it with their kids (and the kids are initiating these conversations, by the way) are making changes.

Numerous other studies have quantified kids’ influence on purchases – about $188 billion by one count – and it would be interesting to look deeper into their influence on green purchases.

For marketers, targeting kids to get to their parents is an apparently effective strategy. But most green products aren’t ones that kids would normally interact with – I mean, really, can you imagine a 9-year-old begging her mother to buy the green laundry detergent because she wanted it? So how can marketers employ this strategy? By giving those kids something to talk with their parents about and asking them to do specific things that will involve the kids. For instance, a laundry detergent marketer would be wise to get kids thinking and talking about how other non-green laundry detergents have bad chemicals that get into the lakes and streams and harm animals (28% of kids say they’re most afraid that animals will go extinct). Who wants to kill the frogs that these kids catch on warm summer afternoons?

But marketers must also be careful not to spread too much fear – these kids are already anxious. The better solution is to provide them with actions they can take to help them quell their worries and start incorporating green habits into their daily lives.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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