If you missed last week’s CounterAct Climate Change program presented by Lynne Cherry, watch the recording to learn why it’s crucial for children to see success stories about their peers who are leading environmental campaigns, how they present their ideas to adults, and why they are so successful!

Influenced by the empirical work of renowned psychologist Albert Bandura, Lynne learned that ‘self-efficacy’ is the name of the game! Children, like adults, are paralyzed into inaction if they have no hope, but when they believe they can make a positive difference in their own lives or in the world at large, they are empowered to act.

Have you ever envied the energy, exuberance, strength, and flexibility of children as they do cartwheels on a playground, or compete on a playing field? (Or argue with an adult? Ha!)  If you’re at least over the age of 40 then we bet you have! It’s fair to say that children are typically more idealistic and energetic than adults. They may lack the wisdom that comes with experience, but the good thing is that they are generally less jaded, tired, busy, and cynical than most (not all!) adults.

Many “grownups” tend to think that children aren’t wise, sophisticated or knowledgeable enough to make decisions, do research, and make a difference. An old adage comes to mind: “Children should be seen, and not heard.” There is a tendency to believe that only adults are capable of understanding and solving complex problems. That is true, to some extent, which is why children are sent to school where they can learn facts, figures, history, methods, etc.

But last week’s program with Lynne Cherry, Founder and Director of Young Voices For the Planet (YVFP), was absolutely eye-opening in that it demonstrated how some children are actually very smart, capable, insightful, persuasive, and visionary change agents. In some ways, children can be just as effective — if not more effective — than adults in leading environmental justice campaigns. Some skeptics may dismiss the power of children to be change agents, but YVFP proves them wrong.

YVFP does two things: it produces short documentary films about children who are environmental activists, and it creates educational curricula that parents and teachers can use to nurture children in their activist efforts. Each short film is a case study of a child or group of children that has led a major environmental campaign in their community. If you haven’t seen any of these films, prepare to be impressed, and humbled by what these children have accomplished! To give just a few examples… they’ve motivated towns to install solar panels on school rooftops, shut down a coal power plant that was inducing asthma by polluting the air, and started tree-planting programs that planted billions of trees!

Did they accomplish these campaigns all by themselves? Of course not; they needed teachers to explain how trees create oxygen and absorb CO2; they needed adults who manufacture and install solar panels; and they needed scientists to explain how coal is a dirty fuel. The children profiled in Cherry’s films didn’t carry out their campaigns all by themselves; they were supported by adults in their families, schools, or communities who provided emotional and logistical support so the children could share their opinions, ideas and visions with others in their communities. And (this is VERY important), to keep from feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by problems, they need positive success stories and peer role models, just like we adults do!

Children need adults to channel their energy and shepherd them through the civic engagement processes; they need wisdom, knowledge, support, and role models. But guess what? We definitely need the bright, enthusiastic energy and idealism of children. Both groups need each other. For the sake of our future and theirs, we owe it to them to listen to their ideas.

P.S. Notice I haven’t used the pejorative term “kids.” That’s because it’s disparaging language; they’re not baby goats, they’re young people.

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