by Lan Nguyen
When kids throw temper tantrums, it can be for a variety of reasons: maybe they’re hungry, or maybe they were told they’re not allowed to do something. But for 6-year-old Henry, it was the declining state of the environment that provoked his outburst. In a viral video that has received over 17 million views in a little over a week, Henry gets very emotional as he talks about the environment, saying “the planet is gonna be wrecked; people are just being so rude to it!”
In Our Nature got a chance to chat with Allie Hall, Henry’s mother, to learn more about the context behind the video, how it has impacted Henry’s involvement with environmental issues, Allie’s stance on environmental education, and what Henry wants to be when he grows up.
ION: How did Henry and your family get so interested in the environment?
Allie Hall: My husband and I are both from Washington state, where we grew up, went to college, then lived in Chicago for a little bit. We then lived in Savannah, Georgia for a few years and while we were in Georgia my husband started doing sustainability work for the city. Because of the type of work my husband was doing, and the kind of people we are, Henry’s always been around environmentally friendly or conscious people and environmentally friendly ways of living.
We’ve always tried to raise him with an awareness. We moved back to Washington state to be by my family, which has been so good because Washington state is way more aware of things than they were in the South. So since being back here, Henry rides his bike to school, hikes with his dad, we go to the ocean and the beach to pick up trash. There’s a lot more opportunities for him.
ION: Can you tell us a little bit about the context behind the video?
AH: I had picked him up from school and on the whole drive home, he kept saying ‘Mom did you know that there’s litter on the ground?’ I still can’t figure out what he was talking about, but something about how the Skagit River here runs to Hawaii, and it carries trash to Hawaii, and people go scuba diving in Hawaii and people get cancer because the water’s so bad. He’s going on and on about this. And I’m just like ‘What is going on?’ and he says ‘Well my teacher showed me a video in class about it.’ And by the time we’re home, he’s still lecturing me. I pulled out my camera and thought ‘Oh gosh, this is totally Henry and grandma and grandpa and friends that know Henry are going to get a kick out of this,’ and so I started filming him as he’s ranting and then he just started getting himself so worked up over the issue and what he’s seen in the [class] video, and that’s when he started crying. It was toward the end of the original video.
ION: Did he get upset that you were filming?
AH: I don’t think he was aware. I showed it to him afterwards and was like ‘I’m glad you care’ –and of course afterwards I comforted him and gave him a big hug. And I asked ‘Would you be okay if I put this on the internet so your grandma and grandpa can see?’ and he was like ‘of course that’s okay.’ He’s my first born so we always have a camera in his face.
ION: So the video has received a lot of views – how have you and your family reacted to the video getting so much attention?
AH: It’s been so weird. I remember the first night I put it up it had like 10,000 views. Then it started climbing and climbing, and people started contacting us. Like ABC and NBC News and kids shows wanted to talk to us. Since this happens, we’ve just been trying to find balance for Henry. This is something so cool. Something really cool could come from this for him.
ION: What do you mean by that?
AH: It could cause him to become more passionate, now that he has opportunities to actually raise money for some environmental organizations. He’s had opportunities to do some stuff at the local little mountain park that he likes to hike at. They want him to auction off some of his posters at a fundraising event. There are so many cool things that he can do, but we also don’t want to get burned out over the whole thing because it’s a little overwhelming. So we’re just trying to find balance. He’s six so we want him to be innocent and to have fun with it but still be able to make an impact while he can.
ION: So going back to the context of the video, you said it was in reaction to a video that he saw in class. How does the education system in Washington address environmental issues?
AH: I think we really lucked out and got a good teacher for him. I don’t think it’s part of the Common Core or things that schools need to teach. I think the teachers are just like ‘Hey guys, even though we’re only 5, let’s learn to think outside of our little bubble and actually make a difference.’ And I think that we just got lucky. She’s a great teacher.
ION: Do you think it’s important for kids, even at such a young age, to learn about environmental issues?
AH: Oh definitely. Even if it’s just as simple as them being aware of where they’re putting their garbage and thinking ‘Should I put this in the garbage where it’s going to sit in the landfill for hundreds of years, or should I take the extra step and recycle it?’ I love it. I think it’s something simple that kids can do, like making the decision of dumping or recycling waste. Even that can make a huge impact.
ION: How do you think your video has impacted or inspired other parents to talk about environmental issues with their kids?
AH: It seems like it’s raised a lot of awareness with parents especially. I get a lot of comments on the video from parents who are like ‘Hey, I took my son out, and we picked up some garbage today because we were thinking of Henry.’
ION: Has Henry ever talked to you on what he wants to do when he grows up? Does he want to do something with the environment?
AH: Yeah, last week, he wanted to be a scientist, and a doctor, and a teacher. He wanted to have three jobs. And since he watched that video, he wants to be a park ranger.
ION: What would you like to see him doing with his life?
AH: I just want him to be happy. I think that whatever he does, he’s going to do it passionately because he has such a big heart, and he’s so motivated. I just want him to be happy. If being a park ranger and picking up trash and saving little slugs will make him happy, then that’s fine.
Edited for brevity and clarity.