This article was originally published in Yes! and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate crisis, of which UP' Magazine is a member.
Climate-related disasters are on the rise, and carbon emissions are soaring. Parents now face the unprecedented challenge of raising children who are somehow prepared for a global emergency that could last a lifetime. Few guides are available for this situation, but experts have advice to offer, sometimes just common sense. In the face of climate change, children need positive stress as well as compassion to maintain their mental health and inform their responses.
First of all, consider that a child born today is entering an increasingly hot world, where recent extreme weather events have displaced tens of millions of people. Scientists say that these displacements could reach up to hundreds of millions of people in the coming years as the rapid melting of the ongoing glaciers raises sea levels. The resulting migration is likely to trigger conflict, hunger and political instability. As we are already seeing among children pressed against the border between the United States and Mexico, many of whom are fleeing drought in Central America, migration could also lead to the hardening of borders and xenophobic or racist impulses. All of this leads military analysts to describe climate change as a "threat multiplier" that could exacerbate the societal problems existing.
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Today, parents need to prepare their children for the direct physical consequences of climate change and the humanitarian crises it will trigger, which could be aggravated by human behaviour. Whether children experience the events personally or in the context of global events, experts say that children will need a strong foundation of resilience, positive thinking, compassion and other skills to maintain their mental health and guide their responses.
Parents need to think about it
" It's a lot for the parents."says Tracey Wiese, an Alaska-based specialist in family medicine and psychiatric mental health. As global warming brings changes As processors in her homeland, Alaska, disrupting landscapes, cultural norms and nutritional resources, Tracey Wiese sees growing anxiety among parents.
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" I hear about it every week now."she said from her office in Anchorage. « Parents are worried about existential things, like clean water, a livable planet for their children, and even catastrophic environmental events"..
According to her, parents can use a variety of strategies to help their children, but children need a supportive relationship with doctors or therapists first. « This link is essential to help children develop skills such as resilience.she says.
Positive stress and strong support networks
Tracey Wiese defines resilience as the ability to manage stress and adapt to change. Her words are supported by a report of theAmerican Psychological Association 2017 on the effects of climate change on mental health, which also focuses on caregiver support and the value of resilience. For parents, the report recommends cultivating a belief in children's resilience, fostering optimism and teaching children to control their emotional reactions to change. Climate change, the report says, gives particular importance to these common principles of modern childrearing.
Psychologists also describe the value of the " positive stress« This may include public speaking, making new friends and other experiences that may briefly raise the heart rate but help young minds adapt to change. Supportive parents in these normal life experiences help children develop resilience. « Parents should also set an example of positive and appropriate responses to stress.explains Tracey Wiese.
Strong social support networks give children a better foundation for resilience
As with many things, what happens earlier in life matters most, but teens and even adults can still improve their resilience. The APA proposes a guide online with age-appropriate strategies.
On the other hand, stress related to poverty, malnutrition, violence or abuse can weaken a child's resilience, acting as a "stressor" on the child's body and mind. threat multiplier" for children born in the age of climate change. In such cases, the climate can aggravate existing stress, potentially increasing the risk of substance abuse, anxiety or depression, according to the authors of the APA report.
Especially when caregiver support is lacking, coaches, teachers and other mentors can help young people manage these negative stressors. This is a reminder that entire communities, not just parents, will have a role to play in raising climate resilient children.
This community-based approach is an important factor, according to Susan Clayton, a psychologist at Wooster College in Ohio and co-editor of a report which summarizes psychological research related to climate change.
" Strong social support networks give children a better foundation for resilience.explains the psychologist. She cites teachers, clubs and religious communities as good examples of social networks that are becoming 'social networks'. sources of meaning" for the children.
Connection to the outside
Connecting young people to the outdoors is also essential when it comes to climate change. The research show that time spent outdoors, especially at a young age, can reduce children's stress and anxiety, while building confidence, imagination and physical health. All of these features will help tomorrow's adults adapt to a changing world."Nature-based education [and] therapy are true sources of strength and resilience for young people."
But not everyone grows up with access to nature and the outdoors, and climate change, like population growth, is leading to an increase in the number of people with access to the outdoors. travels to urban areas around the world.
Environmental education is also beneficial for older children and can spark interest in science and other areas that will be crucial in the coming decades.
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Fortunately, concern about the amount of time children spend on their phones and computers has led to a renewed interest in environmental education. Parents and teachers now have access to a growing network of tested programs, such as the Education for Sustainable Development Program (ESD) of the French Ministry of Education. At the forefront of the movement is an ever-increasing number of outdoor-oriented nursery schools and kindergartens that offer formative experiences in natural settings, including urban areas. Editor's note: An international day of outdoor school will take place on May 21st, involving many French schools].
Proponents of this movement argue that nature-based education is also beneficial for older children as people develop solutions to climate-related problems. Such programs can steer teenagers towards promising careers. But in the short term, learning about science and nature can instill optimism about discouraging climate news.
Discuss and model solutions
But what about daily actions at home? Experts agree that it is also important to discuss climate change and model behaviours that reflect climate solutions. Discussions should be age-appropriate children to protect them from unnecessary stress and anxiety. But adopting climate-friendly behaviours, such as saving energy and avoiding single-use plastics, is valuable at any age. According to Tracey Wiese, it shows children that parents are committed to trying to make the world a better place, and it fosters resilience by channelling energy into action.
Mary DeMocker, author of the A Parent's Guide to the Climate RevolutionThe Committee shares this view. A mother of two young adults, she has spent more than two decades raising her children with climate change in mind, and believes in empowering young people to create solutions.
" Anything that gives children a sense of action is important."she says. « Maybe they're helping to put together the family emergency plan or evacuation kit. For older children, this may mean writing letters to elected politicians.. Teaching children to think critically about the climate issue helps them avoid despair and instead empowers them to create change."Climate change is the most important thing that is going to affect the future of children who need to know the science and the causes, but also the solutions. And it has to be taught without the constraints of political interests".
Mary DeMocker's book contains over 100 short action-oriented chapters with ideas on greener lifestyles, implementing outdoor programs for children and promoting solutions to the climate crisis. It pays attention to the science of climate change and the urgent need for a rapid transition to clean energy. She believes that children growing up today must feel empowered to create change. In addition to strong support networks, time spent outdoors and positive thinking habits, she argues that empowerment comes from a solid foundation in both civic education and climate science. « I encourage adults to promote climate education in schools".she says.
According to Mr. DeMocker, young people should not be told " what to think about the climate, but how to think about it.". She believes that teaching children to think critically about the issue, including in geopolitical terms, helps them avoid despair and instead empowers them to create change. Training in civic and democratic education then enables children to learn how change can happen.
Compassion is also an important theme in DeMocker's work. She says it is an important emotional response that parents can exercise by listening to a child's fears about climate change, which may include concerns about wildlife, natural disasters or the well-being of friends, family and even pets.
In Alaska, Tracey Wiese also sees the importance of compassion. She says that parents encourage compassion when they provide children with a safe emotional place where they can express their feelings and where those feelings are respected. For younger children, she also sees the value of compassionate games.
The exercise of compassion is a role model that young people will need in the future as well, as they emerge as adults in a world undergoing physical and societal change. Global experts predict that low- and middle-income people, especially children, will suffer the effects of extreme weather events, food shortages and other climate-related events. Tomorrow's adults will need to know the value of compassion to promote responses that alleviate suffering, promote social justice and decarbonize the economy. This helps to combat intolerance, nationalism and other negative reactions that can aggravate suffering and civil unrest. The practice of compassion also includes benefits for mental health that can help tomorrow's adults cope with the climate disruptions they will experience.
Like climate change itself, the prospect of raising children on a warming planet is frightening. When that anxiety becomes overwhelming, explains Tracey Wiese, parents need to focus on what they can control: taking care of themselves. Provide children with the safety and support they need. Teach resilience and compassion. And model healthy choices for the planet that allow children to turn away from anxiety and toward solutions.
Tim Lydon is a founding member of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation. His articles have been published in Hakai Magazine, The Revelator, The Hill, Terrain.org and others.