Three Steps to Helping Your Kids to Take Action and Be Empowered

Getting Real | September 16, 2020

Three Steps to Helping Your Kids to Take Action and Be Empowered

By Philippe Cousteau, co-author of The Endangereds and Founder of EarthEcho International

Growing up as the third generation of a family dedicated to the exploration and protection of our natural world, I have always believed in the power of young people to drive change.  In fact, my grandfather, Jacques Cousteau, always told me “before we talk about conservation, we must talk about education”.  Throughout my career I have made this a guiding principle and The Endangereds is a continuation of my grandfather’s sage advice.

As the founder of EarthEcho International—a leading non-profit dedicated to engaging youth in environmental action—and recent first-time father, I’m convinced that youth have the power to change our world for the better.  The inspiration for The Endangereds is rooted in that belief and features characters and a story who remind young people that with tenacity and a little help from their friends, they can change the world. The book is the story of a motley crew of endangered species: Arief the Orangutan, Nukilik the Polar Bear, Wangari the Pangolin, Murdock the Narwhal and the black footed ferrets Jill and Hobbs who band together to use their newfound hyper intelligence to travel the world and help animals in need. At it’s core, the book is about giving young people agency to overcome adversity and effect change. And that agency extends beyond the inspiring story, we partnered with World Wildlife Fund and EarthEcho International to create a series of lesson plans and resources that can help young people take action.

We have found, over and over, that the best solution to help young people find their voice and combat their anxiety about the world is to help them understand how they can have a positive impact on our planet and find belonging in the growing chorus of young people around the world who are building a community of positive action. As headlines about plastic waste, devasting wildfires and species decline mount, youth around the world are stepping up to the challenge of protecting our critical natural resources.

I’ve identified three basic approaches that can help engage young people to make a positive impact on the planet and their communities.

  1. Engage young people authentically and on their terms. Acknowledge that the opinions and voices of our younger citizens matter, no matter their age, and engage them in ways that meet them where they are. Naturalists and nature lovers often eschew technology, asserting that nature and technology are mutually exclusive, when in fact they must coexist if we are to engage young people in a relevant way. Like it or not, children live in a hyper-connected world. Our budding environmental leaders can explore the bigger picture with their devices through simple acts like identifying new critters or plants on a nature walk or recording a natural weather phenomenon for citizen-science projects using apps like iNaturalist or mPING.

Helping our kids see the power of technology as a tool and not as the experience itself positions them to develop strategies to solve problems in ways we may have never considered. It also engages them in a language they already understand! Technology is often demonized but it can also empower kids in a positive way by sharing their experiences and discoveries and connecting them to the bigger picture with a bigger purpose.

  1. Help young people understand the bigger picture. Start with basic resources and practices that touch our lives every day. Connect the dots for a child about how local bodies of water make much of our daily lives possible, from cooking food to brushing our teeth. Or how reusable shopping bags can help save their favorite marine animal. Even the smallest journey can spark exploration and discovery that’s transformative. A great example of this is plastic drinking straws, representative of the plastic trash problem. While a child may not have much control over their daily lives, they can say, “No thank you,” to a single-use plastic straw. This empowers them to make a difference and influence those around them to do the same.

Simple actions and a sense of purpose can help form a young person’s view of how they can change the world for the better.

  1. Encourage action. I have a simple mantra that guides our work: awareness does not lead to action, action leads to awareness. Whether it’s a small step in your household or participation in global programs like EarthEcho’s Youth Leadership Council, empowering kids to take part in solutions fuels a sense of pride that can inspire a child for a lifetime. Tapping into your child’s inherent curiosity with activities that are accessible and that deliver tangible results are excellent starting points. Action doesn’t have to be complicated, it just needs to be part of the equation. That’s how we tap into the inner problem solver in every child.

Today, youth understand far more about the state of our planet than we might think. They are determined to create a different relationship with the natural world that focuses on solutions, not excuses. As parents, mentors, educators, and community leaders, we can help them on their journey.

The Endangereds is a story designed to inspire them, because when young people are inspired to make positive change, great things happen.

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