The teen conservationist opens up about dating, school and her father's legacy

By Steve Helling
Updated February 04, 2015 07:35 PM
Credit: Chad Baumer/SeaWorld

“G’day,” Bindi Irwin says brightly at the beginning of her PEOPLE interview, reinforcing every preconceived notion with just one word.

In many ways, she seems like a typical teen who loves animals, fashion and music. Within minutes, she has confessed her love of khaki. (“It’s not just a color; it’s an attitude!”) She shares her phobias (bees, wasps and elevator doors) and her love for her 11-year-old brother, Robert (“I mother him sometimes”).

But there’s more to the daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin than meets the eye. Now “16 and a half,” she is stepping up her ecology work and planning for her future – all while trying to be an example to young girls.

Peer Pressure, Modesty and Dating

She may be famous in her native Australia, but Bindi says she deals with the same issues that other teens face. “I try so hard to be true to myself,” she says. “I hope I can help other girls realize that they don’t have to do things just because everyone else is doing them. I like dressing modestly, let’s put it like that. There can be a lot of pressure on girls to dress the way they wouldn’t normally dress: on social media, at school, among friends.”

“I want to encourage other young girls not to grow up too soon. Just enjoy the now,” she continues. “It’s so easy for 16-year-olds, including myself, to say, ‘I just wish I were an adult.’ But we can’t wish our lives away. When we’re adults, we’ll say, ‘I wish I were 16 again.’ ”

As for dating, Irwin says it’s not time yet. “Dad said I can’t date until I’m 40,” she laughs. “So maybe I’ll just focus on my studies. It’s a long way off.”

Her mother, Terri Irwin, agrees. “Teenage boys are scarier than crocodiles,” she laughs. “Crocs are much more predictable! But seriously, I’m very proud of Bindi and proud of her life choices. I think she has always taken very seriously the opportunity to be a role model. She’d never say that, but she wants to make a difference.”

Her Future

For now, Irwin is trying to make a difference in conservation and ecology. “My passion is to encourage kids – and adults – to connect with the world around us,” she says, “and to inspire them to make a difference on planet Earth.” She has become the ambassador for Generation Nature, a partnership with SeaWorld to inspire kids to explore nature. “Wildlife work is in my blood. I’m not going to wake up one day and decide that I’m done trying to save the world! It’s who I am.”

Irwin is beginning her final year of high school. So what’s next? “I’m going to take on the world,” she says, her eyes widening. “I have so many plans! I want to try anything and everything the world has to offer. I’m taking a few community college courses. I want to focus on business and tourism.

“It is that time of life, isn’t it?” she says, reflectively. “When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old, you’re really entering that adult world, making decisions for yourself, finding out who you are and where you fit in. I think it’ll be a brilliant journey.”

Her Father’s Legacy

Bindi was only 8 when she lost her father when he was stung by a stingray.

“At some point, you have to realize that life does carry on,” she says. “You’ll always carry a part of that person in your life. I realize that Dad would have wanted me to be happy, to carry love in my heart, and to love every single day.”

“It’s very important for me to talk about him,” she says. “I want to make sure that everything he stood for continues. We never know how long we have on this earth. If I’m able to change a few people’s lives along the way, well, that’s what it’s all about.”