SALT LAKE CITY — Teenagers can have an influence on parents' driving behaviors when they talk about ways to make the air cleaner, like avoiding idling. That's according to an analysis of survey responses from parents and teens who participated in the 2019 Utah High School Clean Air Poster Contest.
Contest organizer Edwin Stafford, marketing professor at Utah State University's Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, calls it the "inconvenient youth" effect, based on a Wall Street Journal article that coined the phrase and reported how parents can be pressured into adopting more environmentally friendly habits when pestered by their children.
"Overcoming Utahns’ general apathy about local air pollution has been a key challenge for tackling Utah’s air pollution problem," Stafford said. "Teens learning about Utah’s air pollution and ways to address it through the poster contest can become credible and persuasive change agents among their parents."
Participants in the contest made posters that displayed messages about Utah's air quality and how to make it cleaner. Winners with the best content and designs were announced at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art at Utah State University on Feb. 9. Over 400 teens participated in the contest from Grand County, Carbon, Mountain Crest, Ridgeline, Fast Forward Charter, Green Canyon and Sky View high schools in Utah and Preston high school in Idaho.
Stafford and Roslynn Brain McCann of the Utah State University Extension Sustainability, who initiated the contest in 2015, published an analysis of participant and parent survey results in the December 2018 issues of Sustainability: The Journal of Record.
Seventy-two percent of parents reported that their teens who were participating in the contest initiated conversations with them about Utah’s air pollution. The study also found that parents were most likely to change their behaviors when their kids talked to them about specific actions they could take to make the air cleaner, such as carpooling, trip-chaining, taking public transportation and refraining from idling, as opposed to general conversations about air pollution or the contest itself.
"Only a few parents reported that their teens pestered them to force compliance," Stafford said. "Rather, the vast majority of parents said that their teens’ influence came about with a simple, rational conversation about air pollution and solutions, and some parents reported even welcoming it."
After participating in the contest, the high school students — who are at the age where they are learning to drive — reported a better understanding of local air pollution and a willingness to engage in actions to reduce air pollution promoted in their posters.
McCall Davis, 17, a senior at Ridgeline High School in Millville, Cache County, participated in this year's poster contest for the second time. She said she is an athlete and poor air quality makes it harder for her to run.
"The topic of clean air crosses my mind more often after participating in this contest," Davis said. "Now when I am waiting for my teammates, to take them to practice, I remember to turn off my car rather than keep it running."
Kody Cunningham, 14, a freshman at Fast Forward Charter High School in Logan loves shooting, camping and riding four-wheelers.
"I love the outdoors and pollution in Cache Valley is really bad," he said. "I wish the air was clean like it is up in the mountains."
The contest combines environmental science with marketing skills, according to Stafford.
"Poster entries range from the humorous to the provocative to the terrifying — all tied to teen values and culture," Stafford said.
The 31 finalist posters were on display at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art during February's Community Art Day.
A panel of judges, including principals from participating schools, past winners and community volunteers, evaluated the posters on their environmental and marketing messages as well as overall artistic merit. Prizes for the finalists and winners were donated by local businesses, organizations and individuals.
The 2019 winners are as follows:
- Tatum Scow, Grand County High School — Cache Clean Air Consortium Award, $200
- McCall Davis, Ridgeline High School — Conservice Award, $100
- Kody Cunningham, Fast Forward Charter High School — Wasatch Property Management Award, $100
- Kaitlyn Myers and Hannah Zilles, Mountain Crest High School — Healthy Human Habitat Award, $100
- Brittney Blanton, Carbon High School — Healthy Human Habitat Award, $100
- Mya Eubanks, Preston High School — Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art Award, $100
- MaKinna Elwood, Green Canyon High School — Inovar Award, $100
- Sabrina Smith, Ridgeline High School — Malouf Award, $100
- Alex Powell, Grand County High School — Campbell Scientific Award, $100
“Many Utahns remain ambivalent about local air pollution,” Stafford said. “Our research shows that contestants report increased willingness to engage in clean air actions, and they also converse and influence their parents to follow suit.”
The winning posters will be displayed at schools, businesses and libraries across Utah.