Learning About Energy Efficiency...
Despite their best efforts, it can
be tough for parents to help kids understand the
importance of saving energy and
put that knowledge into action.
Few people have more experience
talking about energy efficiency than
the communication professionals
who work at America's public power
districts and electric cooperatives. So
we asked them how they persuade
the toughest audience they face
every day: their kids. Here are a few
of their tips.
"Did you turn off the lights in your room?"
"We're not paying to heat the whole neighborhood!"
"Save some hot water for the rest of us!"
A Penny Earned
Carol McGregor of Cedar-Knox
Public Power District in Hartington,
Nebraska rewarded her children when
they turned off lights. "I would give
them a penny for every light they
shut off if it had been left on by
someone else," she said. "I gave them
more if it was a television or
appliance. It really wasn't the
amount of money, of course, they just
liked doing it, and we saved energy
in the process."
Deputize an Energy Enforcer
Several parents recommended
deputizing children to investigate
wasteful energy practices.
When her children were young,
Heidi Smith of Tideland Electric
Membership Corporation in North
Carolina let them take turns playing
the role of energy deputy.
Each week, the appointed child
was given a badge and empowered to
seek out energy waste and hold the
offending party accountable.
"My youngest son took it so
seriously that he once cracked open
the bathroom door and reached in to
turn off the light on his dad after he
decided daddy had been in there long
enough," Smith said. "All five of my
children are now grown, but they
continue to practice energy efficiency
in their own lives."
Diana Hersch of Hancock-Wood
Electric Cooperative in Ohio offered
a slightly different twist on the same
idea. She suggests offering your little
energy deputies a bounty for finding
leaks, drafts and other wasteful
energy practices around the house.
Their progress can be tracked with
stickers on a calendar, and when the
kids reach their goal, they can be
rewarded with a sheriff's badge or
another small toy of their choice.
Paying with Jelly Beans
Joe Janousek of Niobrara Valley
Electric Membership Corp. in
O'Neill, Nebraska used to leave a small jar
out in the kitchen with a dish of jelly
beans next to it. Every time the kids
left a room if they turned the lights
or television off they put a bean in
the jar. "If I had to turn it off, I took
one out," he said. "At the end of each
week I'd take out the jelly beans,
count them and give them a penny
for each one. The whole point was the
repetition, over and over it sent the
message that it costs 'something' to
leave the lights on. It's not free." His
children got twenty or thirty cents
each, got to eat some jelly beans, had
fun. It was reinforcing a
The Invisible Hand
If your child's hand never seems to
find its way to the light switch,
perhaps the invisible hand of the free
market can help them out.
Katie Kothmann Haby of Medina
Electric Cooperative in Texas said
her dad used to fine her 25 cents for
every light bulb she and her siblings
left on in their rooms. For her ceiling
fan with four bulbs, that was a costly
"It taught us that electricity really
did cost money since we had to pay
when we didn't conserve it" Haby
said. Though her daughter is only 2
years old, Haby says she plans to use
the same approach when she's older.
Other creative strategies to inspire
kids to do their chores and keep
peace in the home can be found in
The Game Theorist's Guide to
Parenting. The recently published
book, written by Paul Raeburn and
Kevin Zollm, shows how Game
Theory can be applied to many daily
transactions of parenting, such as
sharing, dividing, collaborating and
No matter what the approach,
talking to kids about energy use is
sure to pay dividends. They might
not always follow through, but they'll
be learning important lessons about
the value of energy and the
importance of conservation that can
last a lifetime.
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