These are the days of our lives…a Queen favourite, with Freddy’s beautiful voice a fitting and moving tribute to a very close friend, played at his funeral this past week. It reflected the wonderful childhood we enjoyed, able to play out in the streets, able to explore the woodland nearby, able to look forward without fear of environmental and social collapse.
Hyperbole? I’m not sure it is. We were largely carefree, although perhaps I wasn’t typical: I joined the Ecology Party (forerunner to the Green Party) aged 16, while most of my mates were tearing about on motorbikes.
Listening to my own daughter and her friends, climate change and concern for the environment are very much on their minds. It is their generation now asking the difficult questions, trying to understand our collective failure as adults to show some stewardship for the planet, and wanting to drive change in thinking at a global level. So, when their days should be stress-free, they’re having to face up to all this stuff.
While many of us are quick to heap praise on Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl whose climate strike action has now spread to become a global phenomenon; is it right that we’ve allowed the state of our planet to become their problem? Shouldn’t our young people be able to grow up free of fear and enjoy the excitement of those formative years?
Or, were our stress-free, teenage years, just part of the problem? Leading us to where we are today? The truth is that nobody talked about living within our means. There were no conversations about habitat destruction, single-use plastics, air pollution, or the Sustainable Development Goals (yes, I’ve even heard them discussed by a 12 year old!)
We all lived as though resources were infinite and our lifestyles sustainable (even if the word wasn’t in use).
Think about this too often and the guilt it engenders can be overwhelming and, on occasions, lead to some pretty dark places. But, let’s acknowledge this guilt and use it as a motivator for action. There can be no doubt that while our early experiences may not all have been so liberating and free, we all had it good in comparison to the future faced by teenagers today. So, why not channel these feelings and use them to inspire action alongside – in partnership with – today’s youth.
This is not a call to arms, to get marching and encourage your own children to go on strike (but, that’s cool by me, by the way); rather, it’s about reconnecting with young people. Not telling them, but listening to them; not frightening them, but reassuring them; not dissing their ideas and aspirations, but engaging with them. It doesn’t need to be difficult, and certainly doesn’t need to be expensive.
I hear an awful lot of comments about young people ‘being on their screens’ all the time; how they don’t communicate anymore; that they prefer to be online rather than outside. But how many of us have actually offered them a choice, an alternative?
Try developing a shared interest in something that gets you out and about? If you’re lucky enough to have access to a local greenspace, then make the most of it – I turned the Pokemon Go craze into a positive ‘get out and explore’ experience, and have continued to build on that through initiatives such as ‘Beat the Streets’ and other urban orienteering activities https://www.britishorienteering.org.uk/home). If exploring by foot isn’t your thing (or your child’s, for that matter), cycling, roller-skating, skateboarding, and even kayaking (see ‘Canoe Near You’www.britishcanoeing.org.uk).
Share in the learning experience your child gets through school. You’d be amazed the topics they discuss across a variety of subjects. They are talking about sustainability; they know about climate change and what it means for their future; they have opinions about plastics, recycling, air pollution, saving water, etc. Show an interest and you might learn something, too. Maybe I’m just fortunate, but my daughter and some of her friends have recently met with their Head Teacher, to present their case for the school developing a sustainability plan and aiming to go C-neutral. Their own idea, and certainly something I’m happy to back them on.
I do feel strongly that having an environmental conscience should not weigh heavily. Instead it should be something to celebrate. Let’s make it fun to do the right thing and live sustainably. Childhood should be a time of discovery, exploring the world around you and feeling that you have choices, with a whole life ahead of you.
We should all be able to look back and say those really were the days of our lives: a fun time but where we achieved something special. Today’s youth stand on the verge of achieving great things. Let’s work with them to help secure a better future, for these ARE the days of their lives. Let’s make them count.