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Are Teenagers in the UK Eco Aware?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 4 Apr 2013 | comments*Discuss
Environmentally Aware Energy Facebook

Surveys show that most teenagers in the UK think it is good to be environmentally aware and many of them think their generation could do a better job of looking after the world compared to their parents. Having these opinions does not, however, often translate into their actions and teenagers are generally unaware of their use of energy.

There is an almost comical but very true picture of a teenager agreeing taking a positive stand on environmental issues, while using their computer to chat to friends on Facebook, texting other friends, listening to their iPod while sitting in their bedroom with the heating turned up full blast. Every parent of a teenager knows how difficult it is not to sound like their own parents as they rant about the cost of the electricity bill. But 40 years ago, no-one was that eco aware, so today’s teenage generation are locked in a new irony as they move from dependent child to independent young adult.

Encouraging Teenagers to be More Eco aware

It may make many parents feel better to know that working out how to encourage teenagers to be more ecofriendly in their behaviour is something that is the topic of a new 3-year research project involving 5 UK universities. There is no clear and obvious solution to the problem. The project intends to study and survey teenagers in more detail and try to work out how to present information about becoming more eco aware in a way that will appeal and in a way that will have a greater impact than nagging about the thermostat or the lights always being left on.

The scientists involved have already highlighted one problem – teenagers live in homes where they do not pay or even contribute to the household bills. They see electricity and gas-powered heating and lighting as a freely available resource. Perhaps one way to change this is at least to post the amount of money spent on electricity bills and gas bills each month or each quarter on a family notice board. Many teenagers have no idea what heating a house costs. By becoming more aware of that, and then collectively deciding ways to try and reduce it can give teenagers a greater sense of responsibility. If they make some of the decisions and then see the bills going down, that is an incentive to do more – and good experience for when they start to live in their first shared house or flat in a few years time.

Mobile Phones and Energy Expenditure

One idea that has come from the research project is already is a potential mobile phone app that teenagers could use to feed in the amount of energy they are using on a daily basis. This then keeps a score and tells them when their energy and power usage becomes excessive and is likely to have environmental consequences. Just by thinking about the power that they are using could be helpful, as teenagers are making a direct link between their behaviour and their effect on the planet.

Making Use of Facebook

Most teenagers spend hours on Facebook most days; while this is using power it is also a potential tool to reach teenagers to make them more environmentally aware. The research project is working with schools nationwide and organising competitions about changing behaviour, sharing experiences and getting teenagers to communicate the environmental message to each other – all via Facebook pages.

Reinforcing the Eco Messages

With more going on to stimulate teenagers to become more ecofriendly, parents can still influence their own offspring by setting a good example. If you are not that bothered about the environment, any commitment from a teenager in the house is likely to fade very quickly. There will still be plenty of lights to turn off, but if you can get the whole family involved in doing more recycling, walking instead of using the car, and thinking more positively about what they can do as individuals, the next generation of young adults could definitely be more eco aware.

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