I can’t tell you how many times, while conducting a seminar on behaviour change, I have heard someone say “teach the kids, and they will go home and teach the parents.”

Others present often support the statement with lots of nods and expressions of agreement. “Yes, it is the best way to reach the parents,” someone will almost always add, to back the point up.

And often someone else will describe the time that they were just about to throw a can in the garbage, and “my granddaughter said ‘Grandpa, you don’t put the can in the trash, it goes into the recycling.'”

There are a lot of cute anecdotes about kids teaching adults. While it is certainly true that children can raise awareness in grown-ups, that is not an effective approach to changing behaviour. Grandpa may have learned that he should recycle cans, but it doesn’t mean he will recycle them.

Effective behaviour change programs are designed to have direct contact with people. During those contacts, we dispel myths, remove barriers and seek commitments. No child coming home from school has the knowledge and training that is required to foster effective behaviour change.

Does that mean that it is a waste of time to teach kids about environmental programs in schools? No, not at all. It is critical to teach children about taking action to protect the environment, as they are the future and have a whole lifetime of opportunity to protect our planet. I have spoken at schools often over the past 30 years, and have designed and developed school education programs and materials. We encourage education in the schools as part of environmental program promotion. And sure, they may convince a few parents and grandparents. If they do, that is a bonus.

It is just that, if your primary goal is to change the behaviour of adults, you have to target the adults. Directly, not through the kids. No matter how cute the anecdotal evidence may be.