& # 39; Our house is on fire. & # 39; This is how the now famous speech of 16-year-old eco-activist Greta Thunberg started at the World Economic Forum in January. "I want you to panic."
There was something surprising, almost frightening about her seriousness.
"We are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes … about climate change, we have failed."
And with those words heard by billions through television, radio and social media, it seemed that the world was starting to pay attention to it.
Last week, the Swedish teenager was invited to address world leaders, including President Trump, in New York on the United Nations climate action.
"We are at the beginning of a massive extinction," she warned, choked with emotion.
Call for action: climate campaign Greta Thunberg spoke to world leaders at the United Nations in New York last week
It came just a few days after millions of school children around the world, inspired by Greta's campaign, went on strike – leaving school, demanding action on climate change.
As a parent, it is virtually impossible to ignore the impact that she, and generally fears for the environment, has on children.
We adults also think carefully about how we can do better – with less plastic, less energy and fuel, recycling and demand that the commercial companies we use and the government match our concerns. And this is only good.
But there are also serious concerns.
Psychologists warn that apocalyptic predictions of climate disasters issued by Greta and groups such as Extinction Rebellion cause mental health problems in young people.
Last week, Bath University psychologists reported a "tsunami" of children who turn to doctors, therapists, and teachers for help to calm their worries about impending doom, with some prescribed psychiatric medications.
& # 39; Anxiety and fear of climate change implications undermine mental health and well-being & # 39 ;, claimed an earlier report by the American Psychological Association.
As the mother of primary school children in England, this sounds true. Only last week did a friend ask if I had any idea how to deal with the fear her son suffers.
She said, "He is worried about rising sea levels, waking up to his house under water and drowning his family."
On Instagram, a mother told me how her eight-year-old was worried that the world would end.
Another said her son was "traumatized" after watching videos of sea turtles and whales burning to death due to plastic pollution.
Parents talked about the feeling & # 39; angry & # 39; to be on environmental activists and wondered if this rhetoric is too frightening for children.
"I don't let my children watch movies with 18 reviews," said Alice, a mother of two.
Parents talked about the feeling & # 39; angry & # 39; to be on environmental activists and wondered if this rhetoric is too frightening for children
& # 39; Do I also need to protect them against frightening predictions about climate change? & # 39;
So what should we do if we are confronted with a child who is troubled by environmental problems?
Child psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Hollins recommends a frank discussion – because the desire to be more environmentally friendly is a positive thing. & # 39; Let them know that they are not the only one who is worried & # 39 ;, she says. & # 39; Ask them what they fear and where they get these thoughts from. & # 39;
She says reassurance comes by putting things in perspective. Rising sea levels can have an immediate effect on the life of polar bears, but not on those living in the UK, she explains.
Teacher and psychoanalyst Emma Gleadhill warns against material bans, but instead recommends doing research together – to help children form a balanced picture.
"That way you can discuss concerns, information, troubling predictions and traumatic video images and encourage their response to be less doom and more proactive," she says.
Psychologists warn that apocalyptic predictions of climate disasters issued by Greta and groups such as Extinction Rebellion cause mental health problems in young people (photo: Extinction Rebellion rally in Brisbane, Australia, September 27)
For younger children, watching a David Attenborough documentary in chunks, instead of the whole thing, will make it possible to have bite-sized discussions – which are easier for them to process and process.
Gleadhill emphasizes the importance of balancing horror stories with success and says: "Find positive news stories about the environment, where policy changes have a fundamental impact on our planet in a positive way."
A quick online search reveals that the ozone is healing, the second largest coral reef is no longer in danger and the air pollution in China is decreasing.
One of the things that scares children the most is the idea of being helpless. But there are examples of consumer power that brings about change, Gleadhill adds.
For example, there is the 5p tax on plastic bags that was introduced in 2015 thanks to campaigns for newspapers and the public.
"This reduced the number of single-use plastic bags issued by large retailers by 85 percent, much more than everyone expected," she says.
Psychologist Caroline Hickman from the University of Bath proposes to talk about "will" and "needs." She says that the next time your child wants you to buy something for them, you have to stop to have a conversation that asks: do we really need it or can we manage without each other?
Whether it's a few trainers, a toy or a snack, its production, delivery and disposal will affect our planet – and if we consume less, we can have a positive impact on the environment.
In more serious cases where children have catastrophic and anxiety influences daily life, it is worth seeking professional help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, aimed at helping people to change irrational beliefs, can help.
Therapists also challenge the kind of "absolute" thinking that could make children think "I'll never get on a plane again" or "Nobody does anything – I can't stand it!"
Wherever your child is in this spectrum, Hickman, Gleadhill and Hollins all recommend letting children go to marches – because it helps them feel that their voices are being heard and that they can make a difference. This is ultimately the message that you want to give a child suffering from eco-anxiety.
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