Eco-anxiety in Youth

According to multiple studies and surveys, the majority of youth feel anxious about climate change and feel that their opinions about the climate crisis are being ignored. Teens today are bombarded with reports in the media about the negative impact people are having on the health of our planet, and it has created a variety of emotions in this young generation:

  • Worry. After seeing coverage of natural disasters, such as wildfires and stronger hurricanes that are blamed on climate change, many teens are worried about what might come next.
  • Anger.  Many youth feel frustrated that older generations and politicians are not making drastic changes to improve the climate.
  • Helplessness. Some teens either believe that it’s too late to fix the problem or that the crisis is out of their control. Eco-anxiety can also cause youth to feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of protecting the planet at a time that they have so many other obligations such as school.
  • Hopelessness. Children who experience eco-anxiety can feel disheartened about the future and even go as far as planning to not have kids because the planet will be in critical condition anyway.

Eco-anxiety, or climate anxiety, is a term coined by psychologists, but is not a clinical or diagnosable anxiety disorder. However, a teen’s fears about climate change can worsen existing mental health problems. For example, a child who was already struggling with anxiety can experience a panic attack when hearing alarming news about climate change

If you are a parent of a teen who is experiencing anxiety over climate change, there are ways to help your teen cope. Here are some ideas:

Research Facts

As we all know, not every source on the media is reliable. A post on Instagram may terrify a teen with doom and gloom predictions about the earth, but that doesn’t mean that the post is accurate. If your teen is worried about the planet, then learn more about climate change together. Find reputable scientific sources that will inform your teen about real facts.

Validate Feelings

Rejecting, denying, or dismissing a person’s feelings sends the message that their emotions are inaccurate, insignificant, or unacceptable. When we downplay our teen’s thoughts or sentiments, we can significantly harm our relationship with them. You don’t have to agree with your teen’s opinions to acknowledge that your teen has valid concerns and that it’s okay for them to feel the way they do.  By listening to their point of view, you are demonstrating respect for your teen and letting them know that you’re available to support them.

Media Breaks

Let your teen know that the media tends to focus on negative news because it gains more viewers. It’s important to take breaks from the constant stream of negativity for our emotional well-being. Regardless of whether your teen is worried about the climate or not, every family should have a policy of turning off screens in order to rest, have fun, or do things we love. When we take breaks from negative news, it allows us to recharge so that we can be more effective in the rest of our life, including taking action on causes that are important to us.

Take Action

Anxiety is based on feelings of uncertainty and powerlessness. Research consistently shows that gaining some level of control over situations by taking specific actions can improve our hopefulness, resilience and confidence. Remind your teen that when each of us individually take steps to improve the planet, collectively we make a big difference. Brainstorm with your teen ways that your family can take action on climate change. Here are some ideas:

  • Make your voice heard. Teach teens that they should demand action on important causes from those in power. Although most teens aren’t old enough to vote, they can still advocate for change by writing to politicians, signing petitions, and attending rallies and protests.
  • Recycle. Make sure that your family is helping the environment in your own home by recylcing! Avoid purchasing items in non-recyclable plastics. Reuse single-use plastic containers. Take steps to reduce the amount of waste your family produces. Recycle as much of your trash as possible. Encourage your teen to work with their school or other organizations to create a reduce, reuse and recycle program.
  • Establish environmentally friendly habits.
    • Switch off lights when you leave the room.
    • Shop with tote bags, instead of using the store’s plastic bags.
    • Try preparing a meatless meal for the family.
    • Use public transport or carpools instead of driving.
    • Wear warmer clothes during the winter so that you can lower your thermostat.
    • Plant a garden.
    • Use your own reusable water bottle instead of purchasing bottled water.
    • Take shorter showers.
    • Refuse to buy from companies that pollute.
    • Use cloths to clean instead of disposable wipes or paper towels.
  • Educate. Encourage your teen to let others know what they have learned about climate change. They can create reduce, reuse, recycle programs at schools or other organizations. They can hand out flyers explaining the types of easy environmentally friendly habits described above. They can inform friends and family about petitions or rallies that can support change.

Final thoughts…

Empowering youth with accurate information and actionable tips is the best way to reduce eco-anxiety and feel more hopeful about the future. By involving the entire family, environmental activism will feel like less of a burden and your teen won’t feel like they’re alone in this crisis. In the end, climate change affects us all and collective action can create a sense of community and strengthen the bond between generations. 

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