Talking science with the younger generation

Wildflowers on Pine Ridge, Alberta (Photo by Bob Lee)

Wildflowers on Pine Ridge, Alberta (Photo by Bob Lee)

May 17, 2016 | by Thomas McAuley-Biasi

For the past five or six years I’ve spent my summers working outdoors with kids and animals, teaching the kids about the environment, which is essentially a fancier way of saying I worked at a summer camp for far longer than is socially acceptable, but that’s alright because something better was born out of it.

Thanks to the camp being held at a zoo, there was an added focus on wildlife, environmental education and conservation. While that might not seem like the most fun you could ever have at camp, the campers seemed to love it. For one week they were passionate about the environment and wanted to be a part of the discussion. But then the week would end and these passionate people would go back to school — back to the “real world” as we put it — leaving camp and everything we talked about behind.

After years of witnessing this pattern, a coworker and I decided to do something about it. (However, if you were to ask him, he’d say it was all his idea, but he’s not writing this article, now is he?) In order to keep the discussion going, and sustain that passion, we created — a website devoted to spreading environmental news, conservation knowledge and silly cat videos, ‘cause who doesn’t love a good cat video? With five nature- and environmental-centric articles published each week, we aim to get anyone and everyone reconnected with nature and a little bit more informed with what’s going on right outside their door.

"Younger generation" (Photo by Alagich Katya, Wikimedia Commons)

To do that though, and the reason I’m here writing this potentially rambling article, you have to be able to communicate to the “younger generation,” those teens that seem so hard to connect with. Dropping the label “younger generation” when writing an article so that nothing is changed, either consciously or unconsciously, in the writing style, is a big step in effectively communicating with them.

Speak to them as if they aren’t younger, as if they’re on the same level and are intelligent enough to understand you, and they’ll be far more receptive.

More importantly however, the key to communicating with youth is to write about your passions. Passion is infectious, and it easily shines through in whatever you do. No matter what you’re writing about. Especially if you’re writing about a topic for what might feel like the 1,000th time, just remind yourself why you are fascinated by that topic, or why you love what you do and share some of that passion through your writing.

These concepts are put into place at Earth|Unfiltered all of the time. Whether we’re talking about neonicotinoids, the effects of climate change on biodiversity or people’s fixation on Hollywood drama over important environmental issues, we’re always making sure our content isn’t being changed for a younger audience, and that our passion is somehow shining through.

In the neonicotinoid article, for instance, we go into what their effects are and how they get into plants. We don’t shy away from the potentially confusing aspects of how the pesticides work, because we know it’ll be more engaging. When it comes to passion, our climate change/biodiversity article is a great example. Sure, we’re tackling a heavy issue about how climate change affects biodiversity, but as it’s something we’re passionate about, it doesn’t come across as dry, since we share a bit of ourselves through the article.

Social media networks (Illustration by Wilgengebroed, Wikimedia Commons)

Social media networks (Illustration by Wilgengebroed, Wikimedia Commons)

And finally, yes, social media is daunting, to say the least. But if you want a younger audience to see your work, you have to become acquainted with the tools that they use. That doesn’t mean you have to do all that yourself, though. If you find social media to be too much to handle, hire a young person to manage it for you! That way, your work gets seen by a larger and younger audience, and you help employ a young conservation enthusiast.

It might seem like lists and click bait titles are the way to communicate with those younger than you (if you were to believe a good chunk of the internet out there, at least) but that’s just vapid interest and not actual communication. If you want to connect with a younger crowd and actually have any sort of a meaningful interaction with them, then passionate writing, written as if for an equal, is the way to go.

It can be as simple as that.

Thomas McAuley-Biasi

About the Author

Thomas McAuley-Biasi is the co-owner of Earth|Unfiltered and is graduate with a degree in Zoology from the University of Guelph.

Read more about Thomas McAuley-Biasi.

More by this author »