I’ve held off writing this post for so long, mostly because I feel unqualified - like I ought to read every single study and article on this subject before I add my two cents worth. But then it struck me that as a parent, and a lover of planet earth, I am just as qualified to write about this as anyone else, using my human brain and my gut instinct (which I am learning to listen to rather more closely as I get older). The other day, after an emotional chat with my ten year old, I put out a plea on Twitter for advice on how to comfort my girl in the face of her fears for planet earth and its future (and consequently her generation’s). I got so many great ideas and responses that I promised to put them all in a post, for those facing similar fears. All of the suggestions fell roughly into three areas, and for what it’s worth, here they are.
Note: If you don’t want to read this, then please DO click on the links at the bottom of this post - there is some really good stuff down there!
Shield them from the doom
There is very little wisdom in burdening children, (particularly small ones) with the enormity of this devastating information unless a real effort is made and steps taken to provide them with some hope and solutions. This means that schools and parents wishing to inform their charges about the state we’re in really need to think hard about the way in which they present the information. Small children’s brains are not developed sufficiently to put them in a position to absorb this information and not become traumatised by it and consequently shut down from it. There is evidence that the younger we are taught about climate change, the less likely we are to do anything about it. It’s as if there ‘s a self-preservation switch in those little brains which turns off, to protect them from the devastating truth. Having read all of the links that were sent to me (I’ll link them all below) it seems fairly obvious that if we want to raise a generation of eco-warriors (rather than eco-worriers) we need delay exposing them to these messages until they are at least 11 or 12, and even then, present them alongside real and action-based solutions. Access to, and knowledge of local and international organisations who are making a real difference (and they are) is essential, as is access to, and knowledge of ADULTS in positions of power and authority, who are affecting change. I cannot stress enough, that although children may act and look beyond their years in their tweens and teens, they are STILL CHILDREN, children who need to know that there are at least SOME adults who are listening to them and who care about planet earth, rather than just money, and who have their backs. Knowing that they are not alone, but part of a massive movement is essential in preventing depression and/or apocalyptic behaviour.
2. Get active
So many people suggested practical steps we could take in order to give young people a sense of power over the situation. Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For Future are a great example of this, (you don’t have to go to big demonstrations…just turn up at your local town hall). But of course, actions can be as simple as the things we are ALL doing in order to be a part of the solution for climate change; reducing waste, reducing our meat and dairy consumption, being mindful about what we buy and where it’s come from, taking part in a sharing economy, using what we have…all of these things, practiced imperfectly by many millions of us, will help. A child can be made aware of the need for this type of action WITHOUT laying it on thick about climate change. For example, we want to reduce our waste because then there won’t be so much rubbish; we want to eat less meat because the meat that is good for us comes from livestock that’s had a good life, and that meat is more expensive, so we eat less of it, and value it more…etc, etc. One person said that her 12 year old child habitually asks shop-keepers where their produce is from, and whether they could guarantee it was ethically produced. This is an immensely powerful action, really calling others to account, standing up and demanding that we all think hard about the products we consume or sell. This type of stuff needs to be built on a solid foundation of knowledge that every action, EVERY action matters, and that together, we will find a way out of this.
3. Take a BALANCED view
You know what? People are out there doing BIG things and causing BIG change! I’m going to say something really unpopular here, but opinions are simply opinions. We need to be teaching our children to understand the news with that knowledge, and the sure conviction that headlines are THERE to grab our attention. Of COURSE they’re going to splash the most dramatic stuff at the top but we need to read ON (if it’s good journalism) and find out the facts behind the headlines, because they are always nuanced. If it’s bad jounalism then children need to understand the concept of writing stuff SIMPLY TO SELL MORE NEWSPAPERS, (or advertising space, or whatever). Nobody sane is denying climate change, but there is an awful lot of sloppy stuff going on when it comes to reporting the facts. When a child is bombarded with messages of doom, let’s teach them to scour that message for FACTS, for what we KNOW to be TRUE. And let’s also teach them to sleuth around for the other, less attention-grabbing stuff that’s going on… the slow, steady march of an army of millions of people doing what they can, imperfectly, every day. Yes, I agree with Greta when she says she WANTS us to panic, to act as though our house were on fire. She was directing those remarks to ADULTS, and powerful adults at that. It’s my view that if we’re not very careful with how we approach this subject around our children, we will end up with a generation of terrified, traumatised humans who will be a far cry from the resilient, resourceful ones we need them to become in order to continue the work we’re doing.
4. Get outdoors with your children!
It’s a no-brainer. Children who are brought up from an early age with a love for nature are OBVIOUSLY going to be in a better position to help preserve it. This is a really wide idea…it could be gardening with your child (euch!) or letting them play in the dirt, or walking in nature regularly, or growing your own pea shoots, or just SHUTTING UP for a bit and going outside and listening to the birds. It doesn’t matter what it is, because children are naturally drawn to the outdoors - all it needs is for US to let them outside.
This blogpost from @wildwoodchildhood which I happened upon, via instagram the very day my daughter came to me with what was troubling her.
This brilliant and well-researched article by Maria Ojala, a specialist in how young people and climate change, brought to my attention by a Twitter friend,