I was walking through our local park this morning and I realized I’ve become that lady: the one who stops every few feet to pick up trash and mutter to herself about “the damn kids”. I was a little mortified at this development but then I thought about it and I don’t think I’m wrong.
We are so lucky in my town to have this amazing facility for sports and recreation. There are turf fields, grass fields, basketball courts, a playground and a track surrounding the entire thing that is a perfect place for a girl and her dog. This morning, not every square inch, but a whole lotta square inches were covered in plastic bottles. This wasn’t detritus that had blown across train tracks or the one random plastic grocery bag floating in the air like a balloon, these were (many) plastic drink bottles, obviously left by the very people who get to take advantage of this amazing complex.
When I came home from my walk, the news was again filled with horrible stories of peoples’ lives destroyed by natural disasters. We are still reeling from the Philippines when now our own Mid-West is suffering as well. In reflecting on it, I couldn’t help but think of all those plastic bottles.
Now, I’m not saying the gatorade habits of some Little Leaguers are the reason we have devastating storms, but we can’t ignore the fact that they are related. After Superstorm Sandy, I read and listened to all different sources talking about how we’re pushing our boundaries with land use and the ever rising tides. I am nowhere near qualified to speak about these things with authority, so know that I am not implying any of these catastrophes could have been totally avoided. I do think that to say we can do nothing also seems wrong. My opinion (and the reason for all our reusable water bottles) is that what we can do is start small and be diligent about what we do.
Here is the problem, kids aren’t born making the small connections. They are given big, often grand presentations at least one day a year on taking care of their planet. They may even trek out to do a park or beach clean up now and then. But, that doesn’t mean much in their day to day. Kids need daily models and reminders of how to live responsibly. They need to understand that their litter means something in the bigger picture and therefore they should think before they drop that plastic trash on the ball field. I would love it if they thought before they even grabbed for a plastic bottle but let me not get ahead of myself.
My point in all this rambling, is that I think as parents we sometimes take for granted what our kids know. We just assume they’ll pick up after themselves and not dirty the earth. They won’t. I work with a wonderful group of high school kids who I would whole-heartedly endorse as kind and thoughtful. To see the filth that is left in their wake after a Monday night meeting would tell a different story.
Kids, of all ages it seems, need reminders that they are part of a bigger picture. Their small actions add up. Whether it’s littering, starting a rumour or standing silently beside a bully, kids need to know that their actions matter, no matter how insignificant they may seem. It is our job to tell them.
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