From the Mouths of Babes

Parents may think that they’re passing on knowledge to their kids, not vice versa. But a new study suggests that children can teach their parents about environmental issues and even make their family behave in a greener way.

Environmental education programs are often aimed at kids because people tend to form their attitudes about the environment early in life. One potential downside of this approach is that students can’t do much about these issues until they’re older. If children influence their family members, though, then such programs might still spur immediate action.

The researchers studied kids who participated in 15 wildlife clubs on Mahé Island in the Republic of Seychelles. Children in about half the clubs had recently learned about wetlands. Both the kids and their parents filled out questionaires that tested their knowlege of wetlands, and each family also was scored on how conscious it was of water use.

Parents were more likely to score higher on wetland knowledge if their child had learned about wetlands in a wildlife club, the team found. Those families also tended to use water more conservatively.

The results “provide the first strong support for the suggestion that environmental education can be transferred between generations,” the authors write in Environmental Research Letters. “[T]he decision to educate children or adults need not be mutually exclusive.” Roberta Kwok | 20 February 2013

Source: Damerell, P., C. Howe, and E.J. Milner-Gulland. 2013. Child-oriented environmental education influences adult knowledge and household behavior. Environmental Research Letters doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/015016.

Image © Zurijeta |



  • Alice February 20, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Interesting article, I didn’t read the whole research paper, but did they find an actual causal relationship between environmentally educated children and environmental awareness in their respective parents? Or only a correlation? As perhaps parents that are more environmentally aware, also send their children to environmental education clubs, compared to parents who are not so environmentally aware who may not send their children to these types of clubs. If the study perhaps tested the parents on their wetland knowledge before their child had been educated on this subject, and then afterwards, this would avoid what could be pseudoreplication in the method, although I hope that educating children really does spread to the parents!


    • roberta February 28, 2013 at 9:45 am

      Hi Alice,

      The authors did try to control for the possible influence of the parents on the child. They write: “Because all schools had a Wildlife Club we were able to control for parental influences on wildlife club attendance, enabling us to compare children with otherwise very similar experiences, except for the receipt of specific education concerning wetlands. Wetlands were chosen as the topic because Seychelles were likely to have relatively low baseline awareness due to a historical emphasis towards species rather than habitat conservation… and because a wetlands module had been taught in some clubs over the past 12 months but not others.”


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