Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.
Attention is the beginning of devotion.
Mary Oliver (1935-2019)
From Upstream: Selected Essays
“Safety comes not in hiding stuff, but in being accompanied.”
Psychotherapist Jo McAndrews
In this time of ecological crises, we are all facing an unsure and potentially terrifying future; no one more so than young people. For many around the world, uncertainty, and the real impacts of climate change and a damaged natural world are things they face in the day-to-day already – as ideas at school, on TV, on the front pages of newspapers, if not in the funny weather/flooding/drought/wildfires/storms that increasingly permeate their everyday lives. Something big is happening, and even children lucky enough to be growing up in countries suffering relatively few real-time impacts are increasingly aware.
Nearly 70% of under 18’s across the world say climate change is a ‘global emergency’; 86% in the UK.[i]
Gone is the time when we as adults and custodians of this generation and their world can pretend everything is and will be fine. Not only do young people face the distress of caused by the crisis itself, but they are also struggling with a second layer of grief perpetuated by our lack of effective action to date (‘double distress’ if you will).[ii] Eco-anxiety (a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’[iii]) is on the rise, and we need to equip children, as best we can, with the skills, information and resilience to face what is coming. And we need to be open and honest. In the words of psychotherapist Jo McAndrews, “safety comes not in hiding stuff, but in being accompanied”.
In the UK, our educational system is slow to adapt in providing what is needed in school. In addition, we as parents, teachers, adults, citizens are also living with the evolving climate crisis, and all the emotions, confusion and overwhelm that it brings with it, not to mention the plethora of other huge stressors (the pandemic, spiralling costs of living, a struggling NHS…).
So how do we ensure young people have the support they need at this time? How do we talk to children about what is happening and what is to come? How do we make it age-appropriate? And can we do it in a way that is safe and empowering, enabling them to feel, process and act in meaningful ways?
This content draws on some of the wisdom and research which is increasingly being produced to help with the particular challenge of supporting our young people, including the work of psychotherapists Jo McAndrews and Caroline Hickman, both part of the Climate Psychology Alliance.
It is written by a climate communication professional and mother who cares deeply about the future health of our world and all those who inhabit it. It is part of the Low Carbon West Oxford ‘Kids’ Climate Action Network’ project (this being the project website) and has been written thanks to funding from Westmill Solar Co-operative.