Saturday, August 10, 2013

is it good for the children

As most of us are aware, we live in a time of climate change. Our situation is dire enough that we cannot live our individual lives as though our actions are neutral. Because we rely on fossil fuels, our choices have ramifications for other living beings, water, soil and air.

I wonder how to parent while being mindful of this.

There is a societal expectation to provide children with enrichment opportunities. As though we’re somehow short-changing our kids if we don’t have them enrolled in various activities but instead let them, God forbid, just play. You know, WITHOUT electronics.

For many reasons I am skeptical about all this enrichment. I wonder if it’s children’s jobs, not ours, to take initiative for their hobbies. I wonder if the ‘all about me’ orientation we engender in children through shuttling them around for enrichment will be manifest in them as adults. Will it prompt them to become engaged citizens, focused on the greater good, or just their personal good?

This summer my middle daughter attended an aerial arts camp 15 minutes away from home. That meant an hour a day driving. If this camp sparked passion to be an aerial gymnast then she would be trying to replicate her experience at home. She’s not. Once the camp ended, she was over it. But did she love it? Did she experience something new? Yes and Yes. So what? The greenhouse gases we emitted transporting her to and from this enrichment experience exacerbate climate change.

Climate change will shape her future more than any benefit derived from aerial arts camp.

It is this future we are tasked with equipping our children. Given the compromised habitat the next generation is inheriting from us, how does it even make sense to expend fossil fuel on diversions to entertain my children? Or to encourage them to cultivate skills they’ll need only in the vacuum of a particular activity? Will enrichment opportunities equip them with what they’ll need to cope? How does developing hobbies help them prepare for a future of more extreme, violent weather and seasons out of whack? How will capoeira, something my two oldest and I love, equip my children for the rise in asthma, disease and allergies? How will music lessons, which they all love, help them navigate their responsibility in a world where access to water is politicized? Will soccer help them understand that teamwork extends to strangers downstream?

I know hobbies aren’t meant to carry the weight of such responsibilities. So where will they learn to carry this weight? Places of worship? School? Isn't it up to us?

I can’t help but wonder too about the collective weight of all us parents motoring around towns all over America fostering our children’s hobbies. What does that look like in terms of emissions? Or in virgin resources consumed for uniforms and equipment? Or in single use disposable drinks and snacks for events? And maybe most importantly, what beliefs form in our children’s minds about their place in the world? 

I wonder if they will learn, through years of pursuing enrichment, they are entitled to use whatever resources they want for their own satisfaction and personal growth. This is not what I want my children to learn from me or how I want them to regard our only habitat. 

That’s not enrichment.