Learning About Energy Efficiency...
Electrifying Ways to Help Kids be Smart Energy Users

"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!"

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.

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 good behavior.

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 mistake.

"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.

Game Theory

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 compromising.

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.

From the Rural Electric Nebraskan.
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