Let’s Talk About Climate Change, Baby: The New ‘Talk’ We Need to Have with Our Kids
By Nicole Rasenti
When it comes to complicated conversations with our little ones, “why is it so hot this summer?” is fast outpacing “where do babies come from?”. For parents, discussing climate change is a daunting task. So much so, that many parents (upwards of 80% in America) would rather their children be educated at school.
However, although our children are the ones facing a future most severely affected by climate change, the subject still hasn’t gained enough momentum or backing to be a helpful solution. At Best, some schools and teachers gloss over the topic with their students. At worst, they don’t cover it all. And, like the ‘birds and the bees’ conversation, just because it’s not happening formally, doesn’t mean our kids won’t stumble upon the facts one way or another.
Ready or not, when it comes to responsibly passing on the message of climate change to children, parents are still the best possible option there is.
Unfortunately, the climate crisis is no longer an ‘imminent threat’ or a ‘pending doom’. It is here, and its effects are having unprecedented impacts on our weather and daily lives, and our kids are already aware of this.
Extreme floods, harsh hurricanes, melting ice caps, unrecorded heat waves, and rising sea levels are no longer forewarning headlines, they are lived experiences, which can no longer be ignored. This heartbreaking and totally unique phenomenon, wherein Generation Z is experiencing actual climate change in real time, has led to a rise in what is now known as ‘eco-anxiety’.
Eco-anxiety and climate depression are the new kinds of metal health issues that plague children, teens and young adults today. That is why it has become important to not only educate our kids on the matter in a delicate and responsible way, but also to support and validate their anxiety around the matter too.
So, how exactly do we tackle this topic?
According to Maria Ghiso and Jungwon Kim from The Rainforest Alliance, (both with extensive knowledge and backgrounds in climate study and education) it’s best for everyone involved to tackle the topic of climate change with your kids in stages.
1. Get your Facts Straight
Before you approach your children with climate-related topics or activities, it’s important to make sure that you yourself are armed with facts and up-to-date information that stems from evidence-based science.
This will equip you to field questions and to find personalized ways of breaking complex information down into bite-sized information that your kids will understand.
2. Start at the Beginning
Introducing a child to climate science is enough to intimidate any parent, but it needn’t be intimidating at all – if you start at the beginning. Rather than trying to explain greenhouse gases, start by explaining the carbon cycle using a houseplant. You can explain how the plant gives off oxygen for us to breathe, and how we give off carbon dioxide for it to breathe.
Teaching this mutual-beneficial cycle is a great way to reinforce the idea of interdependence between nature and humankind.
From here, you can begin to find other easily digestible examples from your daily life to build onto the theory and to explore other interdependent systems (example: where does bathwater come from and where does it go once it’s drained, etc.)
As you move forward, you can gauge how much your child understands and, accordingly, continue to introduce them to more complex ideas, scaling up from local to global (example: from houseplants to rainforests and the earth’s atmosphere).
It’s important to include human activity and how this has and continues to affect the natural balance of the earth’s climate. It’s also important to help your child understand the difference between climate and weather.
‘Perhaps one of the most important things you can do for your children when it comes to climate change, is to be a messenger of hope.’
3. It’s Okay to Enlist Help (in fact, you should)
As mentioned before, schools aren’t doing a great job of including climate change in their teaching curriculums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t campaign for change. Let your child’s school leadership team know that climate change is a high priority for you. You can also pass this message on to any other childminders, such as nannies/au pairs, family members, and teachers of extra-curricular activities.
Another way to enlist help is by introducing your children to age-appropriate media (edutainment) that addresses climate change and will reinforce what you teach. Fortunately, with a little research you will easily find books, videos, cartoons and podcasts, which do just that.
4. Take Action, Encourage Action
Feeling disempowered and out of control is a major cause of worry and despair, so one of the best ways to help combat eco-anxiety (and any other form of anxiety for that matter) is to become empowered and to act. Again, start at the beginning by starting at home.
There are many easy ways to involve your kids in sustainable living practices that will help the entire family feel better about climate change by doing ‘their part’.
These are some activities you can include planting and growing your own herbs and veggies, walking or cycling shorter distances and using public transport, recycling, shopping locally/supporting small farms, and introducing more meat-free meals.
By taking action and leading by example, not only are you showing your children that you care about the climate crisis, but you’re also showing them that their actions are powerful and that they do make a difference.
5. Be a Messenger of Hope
Perhaps one of the most important things you can do for your children when it comes to climate change, is to be a messenger of hope. Change cannot happen if our children don’t believe that change is possible, so it’s imperative that we share success stories with them – not just the doom and gloom stuff.
Show them how other young people are making a difference in other parts of the world, inspire them with up-to-date projections of positive change, and point out how various businesses are changing their practices for the better and how positive eco legislations are coming into play. This will encourage them to keep their chins up and to keep fighting the good fight.
Hopefully by now you’re feeling less daunted, and more equipped to embark on this educational journey with your children. Maybe even delight in the fact that you are still the most fundamental teacher they will ever have.
Source: NPR/Ipsos polls of 1,007 U.S. adults conducted March 21-22 and 505 teachers conducted March 21-29. The credibility interval for the overall sample is 3.5 percentage points; parents, 7.3 percentage points; and teachers, 5.0 percentage points. Totals may not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.
Credit: Alyson Hurt/NPR
Source: The Rainforest Alliance
Credit: Danielle Cranmer