Is there a "right" way to talk to teens about the scariest issues they'll face?
Our nieces and nephew, high school freshmen, will spend the holidays with us in Costa Rica. We'll visit a park that has monkeys, sloths, butterflies, toucans, frogs, and "Jesus Christ lizards." We'll hike, snorkel, and eat pesticide-free papayas, mangoes, pineapples, yuca, pejibaye, avocadoes, and plantains. We'll enjoy unparalleled hospitality and festivities of the season.
I want them to treasure this time.
My husband is especially close to them because for their first 10 years he was among those who helped their parents care for them. From the day the triplets came home from the hospital 14.5 years ago, he spent at least one day per week with them. He became adept at changing diapers of one infant while burping another and rocking the third. He marveled at their amazing language acquisition processes--unique with "multiples." Every milestone warranted delighted explication, and he must have brought home 500 hours of videos so that I, too, would feel involved in their lives despite seeing them only once every few months.
I know this is likely the last time we'll spend such a long visit together. Still, I want to give them more than just fun. I want to share with them some of what I've learned as an journalist, educator, climate researcher, and activist.
I know that confiding to them my grounded worries about their future is fraught with danger. When we're traipsing through the rainforest at night seeking bats and owls, do I speak frankly about the 200 or more species that are going extinct every year? Do I use precious together time to warn about how plastic is choking the ocean in which we've just been marveling at corals, butterfly fish, and humpback whales?
Will I ruin their vacation? Our relationship?
Is it better to risk that scary scenario than to leave them unaware of all that's poised to doom their future? That the current occupant of the white house vows to revive the coal industry, which should have been killed off (as were so many of its workers) more than a century ago? That new fossil-fuel infrastructure is crisscrossing our country even as that shameful industry is dying--that industry that knew, back when these teens' grandparents were still having babies, that their product was contributing to climate change? Do I tell them the industry's diabolical leaders now push plastics?
Do I tell them about soil erosion, permafrost melt, rainforest destruction and degradation, the alarming global prevalence of food insecurity? Do I tell them about "concentrated animal feeding operations," CAFOs, where sentient beings--chickens, turkeys, cows, steer, pigs--live their entire lives confined alone in cages, immobilized, daylight bereft, without social interaction, being reproductively manipulated and pumped full of pharmaceuticals? About open-pit "lagoons" full of tens of millions of tons of CAFO animal feces and urine? Do I mention as we serve plant-based meals that a large percentage of global warming impact is caused by animal agriculture? That processed "food" heavily marketed to teens like them is full of chemicals and pseudonutrients that can cause not only obesity, but also cancer and hormonal and reproductive disorders? That even fruits are suspect?
And do I then tell them about the youth leading the Sunrise Movement, demanding a "green new deal"? Do I encourage them to join?