Children suffering eco-anxiety over climate change, say psychologists

A global climate strike by students and workers on Friday is expected to be one of the biggest climate protests on record, with organisers predicting millions will take part.

climate youth strike2
Student climate strikes in London as part of youth-led environmental movement Fridays For Future. Image: Philip McMaster PeacePlusOne_\!/, CC BY-SA 2.0

Children are increasingly suffering anxiety and grief about climate change, British psychologists said on Thursday, advising parents to discuss the issue in an age-appropriate way.

Adults must acknowledge young people’s fears and offer them support in taking positive action such as joining Friday’s global climate strike, said the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), a group of psychologists and researchers.

“Children are saying things like, ‘Climate change is here as revenge, you’ve messed up the climate and nature is fighting back through climate change’,” said Caroline Hickman, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath and a CPA executive.

“There is no doubt in my mind that they are being emotionally impacted … That real fear from children needs to be taken seriously by adults.”

Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg has led a worldwide youth movement demanding action on global warming through weekly “Fridays for Future” protests.

A global climate strike by students and workers on Friday is expected to be one of the biggest climate protests on record, with organisers predicting millions will take part.

There is no doubt in my mind that they are being emotionally impacted … That real fear from children needs to be taken seriously by adults.

Caroline Hickman, teaching fellow, University of Bath

Young people were left feeling “betrayed and abandoned” if adults refused to acknowledge their fears about the climate, but they also “don’t need horror stories”, said Hickman.

Parents should give young people facts about climate change, discuss how it made them feel, and offer them opportunities to do something proactive by considering what they consume or joining a campaign group, she said.

“A lot of the time adults want to protect children from frightening things, but if we protect them too much then we are actually lying to them,” she said.

But adults should not overwhelm children with too much bad news at once, and should reassure them that it is not their responsibility to tackle the issue alone, said Hickman, who added that the CPA will shortly publish guidance for families.

The American Psychological Association said they were aware of reports of growing “eco-anxiety” in children, but research was needed to establish how common it is.

“It would not be surprising to find out that climate concerns are causing anxiety in some children,” said Russell Shilling, its chief scientific officer.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

 

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