Sam Stedman on Helping Kids Make Conscientious ChoicesOct 31, 2023 06:30AM ● By Sandra Yeyati
photo by Blaise Misiek/SamSteadman
Sam Stedman is the co-founder and publisher of EcoParent, a quarterly print magazine distributed in North America that is designed to help parents make better choices for their families. He holds a Ph.D. in experimental theater and ethical philosophy from the University of Toronto and was a university professor for more than 10 years in Ontario. Stedman lives in Belize with his 12-year-old son, Ransom.
How can parents inspire children to make eco-friendly choices?
We need to get into the habit of doing the work, taking the time to research, learn, educate and be conscious of the choices in front of us so that we don’t make default decisions. Once you get past the surface level of reading labels and knowing what organic certification is, you have to keep taking it deeper. It’s ever-shifting sands. Science keeps developing. New certifications and concerns arise. New chemicals are developed to replace old chemicals that were bad.
We might get to a point where we realize we can’t make a reasonable choice because the information is impenetrable or requires another 15 hours of research. It might be a toss-up, a lesser of evils or an equal of evils, but being conscious and present to it is so important, and that’s what I want to instill in my son. I want him to know that I thought about the things we did and the choices we made, and that he can, too.
How do you help your child cope with eco-anxiety?
The word of the day around here has been acceptance. You have to accept situations as they are, and frustrating and heart-wrenching as they may be, when you literally can’t make a good choice, you also have to let yourself live in this world.
If you’ve ever done one of those carbon footprint calculators, most North Americans use up their global annual share of resources within a few months. I definitely use less than I used to and less than average, but I’m still using more than my share well before the year mark is over. How do you live with that? I wish I had good answers, but if we’re trying and we make our choices well, then we’re heading in the right direction.
Do you homeschool your son?
At the start of COVID, we started homeschooling, but I discovered that I’m not a great homeschool dad in the sense of having all kinds of time to prepare curriculum and open up interesting possibilities. What we ultimately settled on, and this was a part of the shift and move to Belize, was an unschooling approach, which is the term for learning in the classroom of life, not having a set curriculum and instead being self-directed.
My son is free to create his own projects. It’s an interesting social experiment and a process of deinstitutionalization or de-schooling, as it’s called in the unschooling community, for myself and for him. I spent 30 years in school, from kindergarten to finishing my Ph.D., and what did it get me? I was a straight-A student, but when I graduated, nobody was giving me a job on a silver platter, and I had never been taught how to go out and make something happen. The hardest thing I ever did was give up my academic career to become an entrepreneur, but it was the best thing I ever did. So what I’ve been trying to teach my son is how to learn on his own, but more importantly how to make things happen in the world.
Can you give an example of this self-directed learning?
My son is a devotee of Minecraft, so he has built a lot of his education around that. He started a YouTube channel, which required him to learn how to edit videos. He also wants to build a survival multiplayer environment, which means that he has to be able to code his own twist on Minecraft. He had to create an excellent promotional video, which required that he write marketing copy, and he’s learning how to write the rules of the multiplayer environment in a clear way, which is technical writing. We never know where these projects are going to go, but it involves reading, writing, coding, video editing and an endless amount of troubleshooting and interfacing with different systems.
What is the key to successful parenting in this setting?
If your kid is going to sit and play video games all the time and do nothing productive, and it’s not going to lead into fruitful territories, then they need more structure. You have to remain engaged. It’s great to allow him to direct everything, but his sphere of experience is still pretty myopic compared to an adult that has seen a lot more, so my job is to keep finding side trips and lateral movements that will keep him opening doors that he doesn’t even necessarily know are there.
Sandra Yeyati is national editor of Natural Awakenings.