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With a Little Help From Your Folks

You want to spare the air, house the homeless, or raise cash for another cause you care about. What better place to start saving the planet than in your own home? There’s so much that could be done if you and your folks worked together on this. But how can you get them involved? Read on! We’ve got top tips from experts and teen activists who’ve convinced their families to change what they buy, what they eat — even what they send to the landfill!

Be polite. Before you get keyed up for a crusade, try asking nicely first! “Most parents are interested in what their teen has to say, but don’t want to be treated as if they are stupid or uncaring,” says Dr. Norine G. Johnson, former president of the American Psychological Association, and editor of Beyond Appearance: A New Look at Adolescent Girls. “Would you consider using a cloth bag to carry your groceries?” will probably get better results than “You are a heartless tree-killer!”

Consider whether to talk to one or both parents, then find a good time and place for your discussion (hint: not when they’re watching television). Mull over what you want to say beforehand. Keep cool, answer their questions, and listen to their responses.

Be prepared. Do a little research and find facts to back up your beliefs. After Brittney, 16, became a vegetarian, she wanted her mom to join her. “I went online a lot, I looked up statistics, and showed her some videos that I found of how the animals were killed — to show her that I was doing it for a reason,” says Brittney, who founded the Web site Kids for Animal Rights and Education. “Eventually, she started researching things herself, and decided to do it.”

Be strategic. Know your reasons, but think about your folks’ interests, too. “My mother loves trees and loves birds, and every weekend she can, she drives up to the woods and goes bird watching,” says Jennesa, 17. So when Jennesa wanted her mom to buy Fair Trade coffee, she played up the environmental issues. Her method worked.

Be ready to work. When you approach your folks, have a plan of action — and be willing to do the bulk of the labor. “Teenagers need to realize that if something’s important to them, they’re going to have to invest time — and maybe even money — in making it happen,” says Dr. Susan Bartell, a psychologist specializing in teen and family issues. “They can’t just say, ‘Mom, I really want to do this, do it for me.'”

If you want to recycle at home, for example, offer to set up special bins. Separate cans, bottles, and other products from the trash, and take out the bins on pickup day.

Be persistent. Not only might it take a while to convince them, says Jennesa, but they may simply forget. She says she and her mom had about three conversations before her mom agreed to buy Fair Trade coffee, but had 10 more conversations before she actually did it!

Be ready for them to say no. Even if your parents refuse to pitch in, there are plenty of things you can accomplish without them. Get friends, siblings, or other relatives involved. You can meet informally to work on your cause, form a club at school, or join one that’s already up and running.

Remember that your folks are from a different generation. They might see things from a different perspective — or maybe they haven’t even thought about the cause you’re crusading for. Of course, your youth can work to your advantage, too. Jessica, 13, who convinced her family to conserve water, use less packaging, and even stop using pesticides on their farm, knows how to play this card. She says, “Sometimes I remind them that I’d like to have a good planet to live on when I’m older!”

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