Parenting for the Perplexed: Has your child gone too far in being green

Rachel Biale, MSW, is a Berkeley-based parenting consultant who has been working with parents of very young children for more than 25 years. Send questions through her Facebook page: Parenting Counseling by Rachel Biale or via [email protected]

My 6-year-old twin girls came home from school announcing they can’t go to their grandparents’ for Passover: They have renounced (not their word) flying. They actually used the term “carbon footprint” about airplane pollution! They also won’t eat any food that comes in a plastic or Saran Wrap package, and I can’t throw anything in the garbage without their approval. I am all for saving the environment, but this is going too far! How do I support their enthusiasm but place reasonable limits on their “green dictatorship”? M.Z., Fairfax

Dear M.Z.: You have very bright kids on your hands, so that will help. Also, Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish Earth Day, is around the corner — a great opportunity to be both Jewish and green.

That said, watch out! Six-year-olds think they are smarter than anyone (remember A.A. Milne’s poem “Now We Are Six”?) and can be bossy. So, let’s separate the good intentions and important environmental lessons from kids lording it over their parents.

Start with a conversation: What did you learn at school about “going green”? Listen for subtle, underlying anxiety about what “global warming” means. Some kids this age grasp the overall issue but leap to thinking that their everyday safety is threatened. Your kids’ “extreme greenover” may reflect such fears.

After sorting out the big picture, make a list together — one column for changes in your family’s lifestyle that are reasonable, the other for those that are not, such as abandoning your car or never flying again. Treat the draconian options with humor, adding some absurdities like “No more going to the moon for lunch.” It will be fun and will soften your daughters’ militancy.

Introduce the idea that many decisions in life involve weighing competing values; rarely is anything 100 percent good or bad. Pose ethical dilemmas as questions where the answer is ambiguous, and let them struggle for their own solutions.

Explain that Passover with the family trumps the carbon footprint of flying, but suggest balancing it by planting trees on Tu B’Shevat in your yard or at the school. Or contact the parks and recreation department to organize a group of neighbors to plant at a nearby park. A great local resource is Urban Adamah, a Jewish farm in Berkeley where you can participate in planting and farming activities.

Harness your kids’ enthusiasm at home:

• Put them in charge of the recycling, including sorting and taking it to the curb.

• Have them make charts of the weekly weight of recycling vs. garbage, aiming for more and less, respectively.

• If your community collects food scraps or garden vegetation, put your kids in charge of that, too.

• Plant a garden at home, however small. If you are in an apartment, set boxes in the windows. Start with radishes! They sprout in four days and mature in 30 — a perfect time frame for the patience of 6-year-olds. Radishes may not be their favorite veggie, but try my childhood recipe: bread spread thick with honey, dotted with thinly sliced radishes.

• Go to the farmers market together and let each girl pick two items.

• Learn the brachahs (blessings) for fruits and vegetables together and add these to your dinner routine.

• Record everything in a “green album”: recycling vs. garbage weight charts, planting records, photos, etc. Help your kids make an electronic version they can use for a class project.

Whatever you end up doing, put your kids in charge as much as possible. As twin girls, they may be prone to intense competitiveness. All of these tasks provide great opportunities for collaboration. They’ll grow not only their radishes, but also environmental responsibility, independence, reasoning skills, helpfulness at home, cooperation and overall menschlichkeit.

Rachel Biale
Rachel Biale

Rachel Biale was born and raised on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin in Israel and worked for many years as a Jewish community professional in the Bay Area.