Notes from the Glebe

Lessons Learned from Children’s Television; or, Captain Planet is Still My Hero

Oct 16, 08:48 PM

by Lindsey Haines

Does anyone else remember Captain Planet? I maintain that it was from Captain Planet (as well as movies such as Fern Gulley) that I received my first introduction to environmental awareness. Recently, this phenomenon of terrestrial responsibility as a theme of children’s popular culture has resurfaced. For instance, if you failed to see the environmental message in Wall-E, you and I did not see the same movie. Like when we were growing up, kids today also encounter examples of sustainable practice often and from a very young age.

For instance, my three-year-old niece is better about consistently recycling than my twenty-eight-year-old brother. My family and I teach her all we can about responsible habits, but she also has the benefit of reinforcement in the media for her age group. Case in point: on the Sprout network, a TV channel aimed at preschoolers, there is a friendly yellow moose (Moose A. Moose, in fact) who does puzzles and songs with the audience in between shows. One such interlude involves Moose guiding children through separating recyclables and items which can be donated to people who can use them, and another focuses on turning off electrical appliances when they are not in use. Very basic things, I know, but how many adults follow these practices as unfailingly as an enthusiastic child? Moreover, how many episodes of “The Office” and “Desperate Housewives” have had themes of sustainability and environmental responsibility?

The point I am trying to make here is not about topics in the media, but about the mindset of children. When you’re a kid, everything is a big deal because it’s new, and children have plenty of reminders to recycle and conserve water and energy, and therefore they do. So why is it that a girl in my dorm last year kept the faucet on full blast while she brushed her teeth and sauntered lackadaisically around the bathroom? Was it a kind of pop culture deprivation she suffered as a kid? I suppose it is possible that she lived under a rock in her formative years. More likely, however, she probably just forgot. Because once you start to grow up, the things which at one time were so important begin to seem less and less significant as more and more new experiences come your way. Also, as adults, we don’t get so many reminders to do the right thing, and we are therefore allowed to forget what that even is.

Well, we shouldn’t forget. Turning off the water while you brush your teeth should matter; picking up that plastic bottle and putting it in the recycle bin should be important. Just because an action is small doesn’t mean it is not worth doing. We should continue to approach environmental responsibility—and life, as long as I’m on this handy soapbox—with the zeal and enthusiasm we had as children. After all, we were all kids once—all we have to do is remind ourselves now and then.

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