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Dr Janet Stephenson

New research from the University of Otago has uncovered the secrets to help children become better energy savers – and it is calling on parents and schools to take note.

The paper, which is the first of its kind in New Zealand to understand how children save electricity in the household, has been published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science.

The researchers found that teaching children how to save energy at home is extremely important, and perhaps more effective than targeting teenagers. This is so that they can provide an internal foundation for when they manage their own household energy consumption as independent adults.

The authors recommend that parents give the children some control over some of the energy-consuming appliances as well as daily routines and rules accompanied by explanations to help children develop energy-saving patterns.

The paper, led by PhD candidate Ikerne Aguirre-Bielschowski, adds that parents who nag their children and have inconsistent patterns are unlikely to have an impact on their children.

Centre for Sustainability director Dr Janet Stephenson says it is an important piece of research in an area where there has been limited work throughout the world.

“Children don't just suddenly wake up one day as young adults knowing how to use energy efficiently,” Dr Stephenson says.

“The best years for learning skills and habits for efficient energy use is prior to teenagehood. Once young people go flatting, if they don't have these skills under their belt, they may have a few expensive and uncomfortable years until they learn, or they may never.”

The research also calls on schools to develop compulsory energy literacy programmes to provide a conscious approach to saving power.

The research argues using energy literacy in a school context will help create more communication between parents, and in the home through school projects and homework.

Dr Stephenson says parents and schools need to take notice with better programmes in schools to support energy literacy.

“There needs to be a better appreciation amongst parents of what it takes for a child to become energy literate; and also how energy literate children can help the whole household become more energy efficient.”

The emergence of technologies such as video games and child-friendly household appliances could also be used to encourage better energy saving.

Dr Stephenson adds the media influence on what children consume through cartoons, magazines and advetisements is also an avenue for helping to normalise energy saving.

“We are hoping to see better approaches amongst energy utilities and government agencies about how the learning process of becoming energy literate starts at childhood.”

For further information, contact:

Janet Stephenson
Director, Centre for Sustainability
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 8779

Ikerne Aguirre-Bielschowski (currently in Brussels)

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