When my parents grew up in the 50s, they were met with the frightening opportunity to serve their country by turning in their parents for being communist or, in the least, socialist sympathizers. When I grew up in the 70s and 80s, the patriotic bait was to turn your parents in because they were recreational drug users and refused to say “no” to drugs. Today’s equivalent (although not nearly as punitive) would have to be what the New York Times deemed as the “eco-kids” chastising (not jailing) their parents for not being ecologically conscientious and environmentally accountable.
In an article published last week, Pint-Size Eco-Police, Making Parents Proud and Sometimes Crazy, author Lisa W. Foderaro investigates the recent trend of children taking up the environmental cause and urging (sometimes with significant condemnation) parents to be responsible for something more than just being parents.
Children, in an apparent about-face from the conventional paradigm, have become the conscience of the household. This is undoubtedly encouraging parents to set an example, or at least curb their wasteful habits, and to earn the respect, as well as buffer the disrespect, of their own children. It only makes sense that children, who are just beginning to establish relationships to the ideas of consumption and preservation, are much more flexible and less entrenched in bad habits than their parents, who are still nursing consumption hangovers from the 80s and 90s.
But of course, once children become the effective conscience of the household, problems, as well as tensions, arise. As sited in the article, New Jersey parent Doug Distefano contends, “For us, Earth Day is a reason to go outside–but for them it’s a religious holiday.” In addition, many parents complain that their children, whose demands have become greater and more costly over time, hold them under tremendous scrutiny.
Now, I cannot say from experience that this is a significant issue, but maybe some readers out there would like to chime in on the pervasiveness, and difficulty, of this phenomenon? Are children well suited to promote environmental causes at home (seeing as the future, what is left of it, is rightfully theirs to inherit)? Or is their limited grasp of economics and pragmatic concerns clouding their judgment and making them into a formidable and sanctimonious nuisance?
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.