How to Tell Your Kids About the Gulf Oil Spill Without Scaring the Crap Out of Them

photo ranger rick oil spill
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Credit: NWF.

So I have two daughters, ages 8 and 5. And they've seen images on the TV, in the newspaper and on my computer screen of the BP oil spill (or the Gulf oil spill if don't want to assign blame just yet). I tried to explain the disaster to my 8-year-old the other day. "There was an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and it's killing birds and turtles," I told her. To which she replied, "Why would Mexico do that?" Good question. Which brings me to some tips from Ranger Rick and the National Wildlife Federation about how to broach the subject of oil addiction and environmental devastation with your little ones. Ranger Rick has a page devoted to the spill that answers questions kids might have, from "What happened?" to "Whose fault is it?" Adults also can probably learn a thing or two.

For instance: What can people do to change things?

"One thing each of us can do is to try to use less oil and other 'fossil fuels,' and that's where kids can help," Ranger Rick says.

"Learn how to help your family live a greener lifestyle, one that uses less oil and fossil fuels. But stopping disasters like this will take a lot more than that. We'll have to pressure our government officials to make stronger environmental laws and rules. We'll have to get them to lead the way in getting more energy from the sun, the wind, and other clean and renewable sources. And we'll have to get them to join with other countries to cut carbon dioxide pollution and stop global warming."

Amen, Rick.

The National Wildlife Federation also has published a "Guide for Parents and Teachers" on how to talk to kids about the oil spill.

Some tips: Be age appropriate. Follow your child's lead. Invite participation and Empower action.

Is the guide a little biased? If you're an oil baron, perhaps.

"Explain that solving the problem will require some big changes--in society and also in our own daily lives," the guide says.
"We'll need to rethink many things, from the way we get energy to the way we build our houses and get around. Simply turning off the lights won't solve the problem. But everyone can play a part in turning the tide."

Have any parents out there had this conversation with their children? Whether you've explained the basics, or gone further, comment below. Hopefully you got off to a better start than I did.

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