12.08.11Martha Golea

Uninvited Parenting Advice: Humiliation

Lunch boxIs your child going to school or to work on a construction site? If they're carrying this lunch box nobody will know! This was the lunch box I always wanted, but hey- trends are fleeting and the classic metal lunch box above holds WAY more Tupperware!

Humiliation builds character.

That’s the first line in The Parenting Handbook, right? I haven’t read it, but most parents rely heavily on this character-building tactic, so I can only assume.

The following are a few key ways to grow your child into a water-conscious, environmentally savvy adult through simple, inexpensive embarrassment techniques that any parent can master.

#1: Reuse things. According to the EPA, each child who brings a brown bag lunch to school every day generates about 67 pounds of waste by the end of the school year from paper bags, plastic baggies, plastic food containers, etc. When every kid at school pulls out their Ziplocs and Lunchables, your child will be utterly humiliated to be caught with a 6-pack cooler and a two foot tall stack of Tupperware containers. (I know I was!) They may beg for Juicy Juice but you know better; those tiny boxes get thrown away but a Thermos is infinitely re-washable. Score!

Your child will wish they could hide under the lunch table but this is a good time for them to learn to be proud of what they stand for.

What else can you reuse? Pretty much anything! Take advantage of your childrens’ uninhibited creativity to come up with new ways to recycle what’s in your house. It’s less embarrassing if their friends can’t see it, so maybe they won’t hate you for this family activity…

#2: Learn to love second-hand. After years of wearing clothes passed down from my older brothers, I can’t justifiably endorse making your children suffer through hand-me-downs. However, I can with the cleanest of consciences endorse thrift shopping! If you took my recommendation and read The Green Blue Book, you know how water-intensive clothing manufacturing is. So take this opportunity to humble your kids by forcing them to wear something that another person has already worn! (The terror!)

Please note: This trick will work wonders for a while, but your older child may eventually turn the tables on you and develop a thrifting habit. While the most voracious thrift shopper is still easier on your budget and the world’s water supply than the average mall shopper, you may be disappointed that method #2 no longer serves your evil plans.

#3: Eat local food. As Alan mentioned in his post about Yule trees, most of the carbon footprint associated with a product is from growing, harvesting and transporting it. For junk food you can add the footprint related to packaging and advertising. If fruit snacks, Chips Ahoy and Doritos are a popular snack in the 4-15 crowd, just imagine how disgraced your child will be when they’re discovered munching a locally grown apple and some cucumber slices with homemade hummus! I’m almost embarrassed for them, just thinking about it.

If you want to make the experience of eating different food from their friends even more traumatizing, take your kids on a tour of the farm their food comes from! Ask about the irrigation practices the farm uses, where their water comes from, how their business would be impacted if they didn’t get enough water… Your child’s reputation may never recover once word gets out, but you’ll know you’re raising healthy, intelligent citizens and one day they’ll thank you for it. (Probably)

#4: Watch the wrong TV shows. Most kids can quote every Phineas & Ferb episode and sing every Hannah Montana song, right? How exactly are those skills preparing them for the future? They’re not.

Instead of the usual cartoon characters and Disney channel pop stars, introduce your kids to Flo, Bill Nye the Science Guy, whatever kids’ programs your local water disctrict offers, or good ol’ Sesame Street! What’s more embarrassing than not knowing a Jonas Brothers song? Actually knowing all the words to the Sesame Street song, for one.

One of my favorite ValleyCrest Takes On posts so far was Kelly’sEverything I Needed to Know About Water Management“, about how Junior Raindrop inspired his lifelong passion for water management. A friend recently related to me that a Sesame Street episode about water conservation is what got him interested in the subject 20 years ago.  It’s a message that sticks around if it catches on early in life, so watch the clip above and be inspired.

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My parents perfected each of these methods and it worked out alright for them, so I trust it will work for you too. What other tactics do you use to get your kids interested in environmental stewardship? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter!



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Martha Golea

A seasoned communicator and passionate water conservationist, Martha Golea tracks projects in progress and reports on usage of new and exploratory irrigation technology and water management strategies. Martha also regularly contributes content on water management and conservation to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.




  1. Friday, 8:57 Randy Barron

    Several years ago, I made the energy-efficient decision to install a 48kW whole-house tankless water heater in an effort to save on the electric bill. With a 7-bedroom house and 12 kids (6 of which are teens), it was pretty astronomical. The plan worked for about a week. That was the amount of time it took for the teenagers to figure out that on-demand water heater equals endless hot water. Showers went from 10 minutes to forever. The day I had to wake my 16-year old up from the floor in the shower was the day I had a talk with them. I politely explained that, while the tankless heater did indeed provide a constant supply of hot water, it also only had one gallon of pre-heated water available. I also, again politely, explained that we had a two-gallon per minute shower head and, if power happened to be lost to the heater, that meant that there was only 30 seconds of hot water available. I also, once more politely, indicated that I had complete access to the circuit breakers for the water heater, and that 10 minute showers were more than long enough. I’ve only had to trip the breakers twice…

  2. Friday, 9:21 Martha Golea

    @Randy, thanks for sharing! 12 kids, wow! In the comments on my last “parenting advice” post, Alan Harris mentioned that installing a tankless water heater is a two-way street( and there’s no better illustration of that point than your story. Sure it saves electricity but it also means your 16 year old falls asleep in the shower…I’m glad to hear your polite threats were effective in getting your family to turn off the tap!

  3. Friday, 2:07 Alan Harris

    I love the blog but Randy’s comments are hilarious…watch out you may have competition!

    1 – In elementary school I lugged a lunch box to and from school, but I refused to when I hit high school. The compromise was I got 1 brown bag a week. I had to carefully fold it and take it back home.

    2 – Second hand? I was the youngest of 3 in a boy – girl – boy family of siblings. My brother was 5 years older than me so 2nd hand was a half decade old by the time it got to me. Growing up I never knew they actually made shorts or short sleeve shirts that weren’t cut off with a pair of scissors. Oh how I used to unravel then ends. Now you pay extra for the “cut off” look.

    3 – Summers were spent on my grand parents farm in North Carolina where the washing machine drained directly into the garden (which was about an acre). This was my early introduction into gray water.

    Thanks for the great post. It was a great read at the end of the week.

  4. Monday, 10:56 MomGoH2O

    What about the joy of sharing bathwater? We started from cleanest kid to the one who looked like he’d had the most fun outside (assessed by the amount of dirt clinging to the kid). We were very considerate and never did the reverse order!!

    Parents who experiment w/ these water-saving techniques may need to print this blog so that they have an assurance policy that their child-rearing habits will not be in vain.

    Reading these posts has been a most enjoyable way to spend my lunch time…while enjoying homemade soup, brought to school in a reusable container!

  5. Monday, 11:00 MomGoH2O

    Please tell me you never carried the black lunch box!! Seems to me that you recycled a brown paper bag for some time?

    At least you never had to wash and dry zip lock bags! We know that can do wonders for the personality and creativity…resulting in a wonderful friend and a normal adult – right?

  6. Monday, 11:17 Mother of a 2 Year Old

    I posted this on my Facebook and here is a friend’s reply:

    Love. Thanks for sharing! My baby’s been in cloth diapers since birth and eating homemade baby food so I love the tips to keep moving in the right direction!

  7. […] If you’ve even heard of Almond Dream, you probably thought it sounds awful and who would ever eat that? Let me tell you, it is the opposite of awful. Unlike ice cream, they’re surprisingly good for you. Having a hard time bribing your lactose-intolerant child to behave since you can’t leverage ice cream? Now you have Almond Dream. (A little more uninvited parenting advice…) […]

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