The Dolphin Way

Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger

Attention Parents: Mother Nature Needs Us

This Earth Day, teach your child the Dolphin Way

As a young child, I had a lot of free time to feed my growing imagination and I would create layers upon layers of stories in my head. These fictional stories intensified when I was outside in nature. While digging aimlessly in the dirt, I was a scientist trying to discover a new species of life. Soaring through fields of grass, I believed I was a superhero who was saving Mother Nature from the clutches of her most powerful foes. The boundless creativity I had as a child allowed me to play out numerous scenarios, and in every one of them, nature often had a leading role.

Nowadays, the oral stories I hear on various news stations about the increase in natural disasters, the depletion of resources, catastrophic climate change, and the degradation of our oceans tell me that Mother Nature has been forced into  a new role: the damsel in distress. However, these stories are not figments of my wild imagination – the issues are very real and are very threatening to our quality of life. Often, I wish my childhood stories could come to fruition, as Mother Nature is in desperate need of a superhero now, more than ever before.

We are now living in the anthropocene, where our activities are the most dominate force acting on the planet. With seven billion people and counting, our massive footprint will only increase, and so too will the severity of the problems and changes we face. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report demonstrates the extremely vulnerable state of our environment and the escalating risks that we will be forced to confront. Is the next generation going to be ready to clean up the mess we are carelessly leaving behind? Are they being equipped with the knowledge they need to solve the problems of our slowly depleting planet?

Recent studies show that Generation Y (the cohort born after 1980) ranked values such as community involvement and self-acceptance much lower than wealth attainment, personal image and fame. These young people – also sometimes called Millennials, Gen Me, or Gen Entitled— are less willing to donate to charity, protect the environment, or get involved in social causes. These statistics demonstrate that children are becoming disconnected from nature and adopting an unbalanced perception of the world. As a mother of three, I find these statistics quite worrisome – how can this generation possibly protect our planet, when these are the materialistic values that have contributed to the sustainability mess we find ourselves in?

Given the state of the world and the tasks of the next generation, our survival depends on how we parent our children right now. We need to focus on the values we are encouraging for our children, and questioning whether or not our individual actions are helping our kids become the environmental stewards the world desperately needs. 

Only innovators with twenty-first-century thinking can solve our twenty-first-century problems—but they have to be healthy enough and care enough to actually do so. I believe today’s parents seriously undervalue working towards a greater purpose even though it is among the most powerful of human motivators. Thankfully, Dolphin parents (as opposed to hyper-competitive tiger parents or directionless jellyfish parents) teach their children that individual satisfaction depends not only on their quality of life but also on that of others. We are built to connect socially, care about our community and strive to make the world a better place. This Earth Day, try the Dolphin Way, and open an opportunity to teach your child how to:

Be Creative Decision Makers. As Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Generation Y needs to be creative when they think of solutions to the planet’s staggering problems. We don’t need more policy makers that are following current trends; we need inventors, reformers and creators of new sustainable strategies that can help limit the negative impacts human makes on our world. Discuss environmental policies and issues with your children, even ask them what they think they would do in this situation. Sometimes the most creative ideas come from young minds.

Think Globally. Children need to recognize how individual impact can affect people on a global scale. An important example of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; a swirling vortex of garbage, debris and waste that is affecting the vitality of marine life in the Pacific Ocean. These kind of global issues can educate children on the importance of limiting waste production and encourage them think of the bigger picture.

Contribute Locally. Children need to learn how to make positive contributions to their environment. Non-profit initiatives such as Kids Making a Difference is bringing youth together to participate in city street cleanup programs along with fundraising for the preservation of endangered wildlife. Get your child involved with their community to show them how rewarding living beyond their personal bubble can truly be.

If ever there was a time to come together and educate your children the important of their individual impacts and effects on the environment – it’s now. The challenges of the next generation are daunting, and the decisions they make will be critical. Fortunately, like dolphins in nature, humans are also hardwired to care, share, and cooperate. So, we just need to remember our humanity and follow what we are naturally built to do. 

Shimi Kang, M.D., is an award-winning, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Way.

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