Youth Climate Anxiety: Can Talking About Climate Change at Home Make a Difference?
February 28, 2023
If you feel stressed or anxious about the future of the planet in the wake of climate change, you aren’t alone — in fact, there’s a term for that. “Climate anxiety” is a rising buzzword in the psychology field, and research is revealing it doesn’t affect everyone equally.
While more than two-thirds of adults in America have reported experiencing some form of anxiety around climate change, children and young adults are often the focus of conversation — and not without reason. The Washington Post recently reported the average 6-year-old will witness three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents, and seven times as many heat waves. That’s a scary future to face for anyone, let alone an elementary schooler. It’s no surprise then in 2021 84% of young people between 16-25 years were at least moderately worried about climate change, and 59% were very or extremely worried.
Environmental injustice plays a role in climate anxiety as well. In the United States, a space deeply rooted in systems of colonization and racial capitalism, the impact of climate change today disproportionately affects historically marginalized communities such as indigenous groups, other non-white racial and ethnic groups, and those experiencing poverty. Because feelings of anxiety and urgency are heightened among those exposed to environmental health risks, individuals within these communities report increased levels of concern.
Supporting a child with climate anxiety
For parents, guardians, or mentors of a child experiencing climate anxiety, it can feel challenging to initiate a conversation about climate change. Talking openly and honestly about climate change at home can be an important step towards giving your child the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the environment around them.
When starting conversations about climate change with your kids, consider these three tips:
- Validate their emotions
The Lancet’s report on youth climate anxiety explained that one of the most effective ways to support someone experiencing climate anxiety is by listening to, respecting, and validating their concerns. Listen to your child; whether or not you share the same level of concern, showing compassion can make them feel a little bit less alone.
- Meet them where they’re at
Let your child tell you what they already know. With many schools lacking high quality climate education, kids often develop their conceptions of climate change through tidbits of information gathered from the news, overheard conversations, and social media. This can paint a confusing picture, so let them ask questions. If you don’t know the answers (we know, the science behind climate change can be confusing for everyone), investigate together on a reputable and kid-friendly site such as Climate Kids by NASA. Reading books about climate change can also be a digestible way to integrate the subject into your household. You can find books tailored to a variety of different ages and knowledge levels, so start curating your climate bookshelf!
- Be honest, but hopeful
Climate change is a scary subject, and no one wants to talk about a future inevitably holding scary moments. That being said, the less abstract the concept is, the more secure kids will feel in their ability to interact with the changing environment. By demystifying climate change, you can facilitate a sense of hope and show them ways they can turn their anxiety into action.
Empower them to join the fight against climate change by choosing a few of our 52 tips to treat every day like Earth Day to tackle as a family, or search for an Earth Day 2023 event happening near you. Rallies, community cleanups, and speaker events are great ways for kids to get involved, stay motivated and, most importantly, see that other people are fighting for their future alongside them.
Take action: Advocate for climate literacy in schools
Talking about climate change at home is an important step towards collective climate literacy and civic engagement. Regardless, instituting a climate change curriculum in schools is a necessary measure to mitigate youth climate anxiety through information, educational tools, and support. Join our climate literacy campaign to advocate for the adoption of climate education in schools around the world. If you’re an educator, you can access our Education Resource Library or Register as an Earth Day School for more resources.