Kids can help their families learn to conserve energy at home, according to a new study led by Stanford pediatrician Thomas Robinson, MD. The paper, published last week in Nature Energy, describes a research project called Girls Learning Energy and Environment (or GLEE) that was conducted in 30 Bay Area troops of junior Girl Scouts. Each troop took part in one of two five-hour curricula, one focused on saving household energy and the other on making energy-saving food and transportation choices.
The programs were intended to be fun: Girls made newscasts explaining the importance of saving energy, playing the roles of news anchors, investigative reporters and energy experts. They were encouraged to adopt the energy-saving behaviors in their daily lives and get their parents to do so as well, and they participated in activities at their meetings to track their individual and group progress.
After the program ended, and at a follow-up measurement several months later, the girls and their families had indeed made energy-saving changes such as plugging chargers in to power strips, turning off power strips at night, adjusting refrigerator temperatures and washing clothes in cold water.
The work is part of Robinson's larger effort to promote beneficial — and healthy — behaviors by tapping into kids' and parents' natural motivations. The Girl Scouts in the study, who were fourth and fifth graders, are at an age where they like being experts and enjoy being able to teach their families something, Robinson told me. And parents, whose lives are often pretty hectic, are in turn motivated to do things that their kids care about. A story about the research from Scientific American's ClimateWire blog gives a good example of how this played out for one daughter-and-mom pair:
'I know all of my other friends who were in GLEE with me always went home and talked to their parents. They talked with their siblings, too,' [study participant Rachel] Swan said in a phone interview. 'We all had a lot of fun with it because it felt nice being the one to teach your parents things because they always teach you things. You know, return the favor.'
Her mom chuckled at this but agreed.
'It’s kind of fun to learn some things from your kids, to get them to try and convince you that this is the way we should do this,' said Clare Swan, who helped coordinate the GLEE program for Rachel’s troop.
The program has the potential to make a much larger impact, as Robinson explained in Stanford's press release about the work:
Children are the group whose futures are most impacted by environmental changes. If they adopt sustainable lifestyles now, they are the group who will live long lives of sustainable practice. We are currently scaling up this program with Girl Scout troops throughout the country, reaching Girl Scouts and families nationwide.
Previously: Getting a handle on screen time: Tips for parents, Childhood obesity expert to parents: Reduce your child's screen time and Using a traffic light system to encourage healthier eating habits
Photo by Danny_Eugene