Inconvenient Youth | Urban Living

Inconvenient Youth

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Lately, I've written a lot about air pollution. Our crappy air is getting worse because of our lack of aggressive actions to stop it. Utah State University marketing professor Edwin Stafford recently sent me a copy of a case study that he's co-leading with professor Roslynn Brain centering on the annual "Utah High School Clean Air Poster Contest." The young contestants' attitudes, the researchers say, can help reverse adult's apathy about air pollution.

USU sits at the bottom of a topographical cereal bowl just like Salt Lake City. Provo had the worst air quality in the nation last Feb. 1, according to AirNow. Brigham City and Ogden were added to the top of the list two days later. Those of us in big cities are familiar with the Utah winter cough and hack, as are our kids. Stafford wrote that, "Social influence is often instrumental for encouraging pro-social behavioral change in others. Who else are the most influential but children, with whom we want to maintain mutual love and respect?"

The study explains the "Inconvenient Youth Effect," where teens become natural evangelists. In this case, pestering their parents, family and friends about air pollution arising from the teens' participation in the poster contest: "Approximately two-thirds of the surveyed teen contestants reported encouraging others to carpool, trip-chain, refrain from car idling, walk/bike and/or take the bus during Utah's polluted winter-inversion season, even though they were not instructed to do so." But, "only 43 percent believed, however, that they actually changed others' behaviors for good."

I gleaned from the full study that kids who nag, teach others, sweet talk or even pout had some effect on others. But how much annoying pressure do adults need? Shouldn't adults be teaching kids to ride public transit and reduce pollution?

UTA's Free Fare Friday event on Dec. 22 garnered 23,000 extra passengers by the end of service that day, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. UTA spokesperson Carl Arky notes that normally, the last workday before Christmas sees a 5 percent drop in ridership. Yet FrontRunner passengers for the day were up 66 percent and Trax up 32 percent. People did not take buses, though, as ridership increased by just 278 boardings.

Keep up what you're doing kids—pester and cajole away! We'll never reduce toxic air in our valleys without your help.

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