In the wake of Greta Thunberg’s powerful and damning United Nations speech, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rebuked her and the student strikes she began.
The PM stated that he doesn’t want children to feel "needless anxiety" and wishes to protect our children from the harmful effects of climate grief. But this kind of rhetoric seems to have the opposite effect.
WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?
In the 2017 article, 'Raising Children to thrive in a Climate Changed World', the Australian Psychological Society (APS) stated that the best way to ‘handle anxiety is action'. Our children are starting to learn that they have to be the enactors of change and that but by striking, they allow themselves to feel less helpless.
This generation of children will need to adapt to faster and more wide-ranging changes than we have ever seen before ... our children – the next generation – will need to keep working so they can help to restore a safe climate, and to adapt to the inevitable changes ahead.
To combat this future, the APS recommends that parents should teach their children a series of life skills. This includes personal self-regulation, social justice and flexibility and adaptability skills. The examples given were the recycling of plastics and having discussions about how our lifestyles will be affected.
The APS recommends teaching children about climate change at a very young age. It also recommends they be involved in climate action such as recycling scraps from as young as primary school. It’s also important, the article states, to have our children engage in civic duties such as volunteering, writing letters to our members of parliament and you guessed it — protesting.
WHAT ARE REAL PEOPLE DOING?
Brisbane resident and bee enthusiast Ms Wemyss uses her four native beehives to teach her children, not only about the complex systems in nature but also the possible effects of climate change.
Ms Wemyss says:
We currently have four native beehives. They are incredibly important to us, as I feel they teach caring without reward, awareness of nature and, most importantly, how all nature is connected. The boys love to watch them forage in our garden and return with pollen to their hives. Having bees opens discussion on deforestation, ecosystems and the importance of doing what we can to help support our local area.
For her, it is important that her children are aware of what their futures have in store.
I tell them what is happening but in ways that they can understand. We talk about why we are noticing less rain; we talk about why the coral is bleaching; we talk about carbon emissions and fracking. We discuss clean energy and why looking after the Earth is important. They have a lifetime to be afraid, so I would love them to have a childhood of fun and laughter but also ensure they learn what is necessary to take action — and to teach other as they grow older.
When prompted about the possible anxieties they might face Wemyss had this to say:
Creating panic in small children will achieve nothing but fear, and sadly as they get older, the fear will come as they see the extent of what is happening. I feel allowing my children to be unaware of what is happening would be negligent on my part. The main way I can help my children is through education. How to stay calm and make effective plans. How to be a leader and how to take steps to help secure our future.
The Prime Minister’s comments dismiss what real Australians are doing to help fight against the anxieties of climate change.
His [Morrison's] attitude to the kids was dismissive and patronising. What he ignores is that many of their leaders –and indeed most of the children – understand what is happening to their world. They know the physics, chemistry and biology that underpins that understanding. And they have access to reports which pour forth from NASA, the World Meteorological Organisation and the IPCC, and they see the images of melting glaciers, drought and bushfires.
Dissatisfaction towards the Government's climate policy is a large part of what is causing climate grief in our children. As young Greta Thunberg says “… the politics are still nowhere in sight”.
A COUNTER ARGUMENT
Professor of moral philososphy at Oxford University, Roger Crisp, does offer some balanced insight. He disagrees with Greta Thunberg’s rhetoric because he believes ‘people who panic don’t make sensible decisions’.
They [the parents] also need to stress that despair is both inappropriate (since we really don’t know how bad things are going to get) and self-defeating (in that our only way through the environmental crisis is through hope and remaining positive — consider for example the response of the British to the Nazi threat in WWII).
Nonetheless, Crisp still believes that children should be engaged in the fight for climate action:
The solution is cooperation with others and I would try, and indeed do try, to encourage my children to join those on the right side in what’s going on at present. I might add that I marched in Melbourne last week and was very struck by the commitment there across all ages, and the calm and reasonable atmosphere of the whole thing — certainly gave me hope!
You can follow IA intern Michael Williams on Twitter @hossglop.
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