"Fish aren't allowed plastic. So stop using straws." Lessons in behaviour change from a six-year old
A few weeks ago my six year old daughter had her flu vaccination at school. She came home telling me how she was a “Flu Hero” and showed me a leaflet she’d been given. The leaflet explained, in language a six-year old can understand, how by having the vaccine she was not only protecting herself but also her whole family from getting the flu this year. It really struck me how powerful that simple communication could be. By explaining WHY she had the vaccination she will grow up understanding how important it is and that will be something that will stay with her for the rest of her life and her own children’s lives. This is a stark difference to how my generation was educated at her age – focusing on developing skills as opposed to encouraging a deeper understanding of the world.
Much of what we do in the communications world aims to change people’s behaviour. That’s a tough brief, when you consider the complexity of the network of beliefs that underpin the choices we make. Getting an adult to change the habits of a lifetime can be extremely hard, whether that be changing what they eat, taking exercise, or giving up smoking. But kids are different. They are sponges for new information, and they are only just forming those beliefs that will inform their behaviour as adults.
This gave us the stimulus for an idea we presented to a client recently. We wanted to find a way to get people more engaged in recycling plastic. It’s a valuable material and in 2017 it’s a travesty that so much plastic still goes to landfill. The Blue Planet II series has once again brought this issue to people’s attention. So I asked my daughter what she thought about it and what her message would be to get people to behave differently. She thought for a few seconds and confidently said “Plastic is invading the sea. Stop using straws. Because fish aren’t allowed plastic.” I wonder what people across the country would do if all the six-year olds in the UK came home with that message? I’d be willing to bet it would have more impact than dull leaflets from the council, or even Sir David Attenborough’s personal appeals for action. It worked for me - in the last week, every time I have put a piece of plastic in the bin I have questioned myself.
If you want to change something for the future – get a 6-year old to tell you how to do it. The way they communicate is so clear, simple, uncluttered by noise and our adult need to rationalise a gut decision. They have this innate passion for things they believe in. And they make choices with their heart.
Listening and paying attention to people around us can be the stimulus for a great idea. Open your ears – and listen to what your kids are telling you. You’ll probably learn something.