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Climate change and your teen

What is climate change?

The term climate change refers to variations in climate linked to global warming. It has now been demonstrated that human activity has been primarily responsible for the global warming that has been observed since the 1950s [1]. The rise in sea level and the increased risk of flooding, forest fires and heatwaves are just a few of the events related to climate change.

What role can young people play in all this?

Many believe that climate change is the challenge of our century. And young people are the most concerned. Why? Simply because these young people are the ones who are likely to be the most affected by the impacts of climate change, but they don’t think they have the power to change things.

Should I feel concerned about my teen?

Your teen may be preoccupied by climate change without it being harmful to their health. This preoccupation is not necessarily negative. It can motivate them to get involved and be an opportunity for rich and satisfying experiences. Such a commitment can also be an opportunity to develop relationships with people who share the same vision and, through concrete actions, give them a feeling of competence.

More and more people, both youth and adults, are concerned about climate change. Have you already heard the term “eco-anxiety”? According to Maxime Boivin, a researcher at the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, eco-anxiety refers to “feelings of psychological and sometimes physical distress, varying in intensity, characterized by apprehension about climate change and the state of the environment and the impact this will have on individuals and society in the not-so-distant future”[2].

Eco-anxiety may vary in intensity (mild to severe) and can worsen over time and with events. Certain factors can contribute to increasing it:

  • Extreme weather events (e.g. tornados, violent storms, heatwaves, fires, floods).
  • Bad news about the climate (e.g. authorization of a petroleum project).
  • Personal decisions (e.g. deciding whether or not to have children or to go travelling).
  • Already having had to deal with the consequences of climate change (e.g. health problems, property loss, relocation).
  • Anything that reminds them about or increases their sense of urgency (e.g. news in the media).

If your teen’s eco-anxiety becomes intrusive and persistent, and is getting in the way of their daily activities, don’t hesitate to ask for help and consult a professional (see resources below).

My teen’s resilience may help them:

The COVID-19 pandemic gave us a chance to discover how resilient we are. We learned to use our resilience on a daily basis. Resilience is the ability to adapt and continue living and developing following a change, uncertainty or loss. Resilience can be developed through completing projects, making meaningful connections, cultivating a positive self-image and an ability to handle our emotions and health well and by resolving problems. Therefore, resilience contributes to positive mental health, as well as preventing eco-anxiety, among other things.

Following are a few tips to help your teen develop their resilience and keep their concerns about climate change at a heathy level.

To better support

Communication

  • Have a conversation with your teen about their emotions and concerns about the environment. Show an interest in what they have to say and be empathetic. Step back to take a look at your own emotions and concerns about climate change, and if necessary, change your own reactions.
  • Give them reasons to be hopeful; share good news about the environment.

Supervision/Guidance

  • Since the media can contribute to increasing a feeling of climate urgency, limit exposure to media at home. Turn off the television if the news plays non-stop at home. Suggest that they limit their screen time and vary their interests and searches.
  • Encourage your teen to get involved in concrete projects (e.g. community garden, advocacy marches, awareness-raising activities) that are also accessible (e.g. at their school, in their municipality, at a community organization). This is an opportunity for them to meet people and create meaningful connections. This might also give then a sense of usefulness and belonging. However, it’s always a question of balance. Make sure your teen’s commitment does not become excessive. If it does, ask them to step back.

Support

  • Explain to your teen that taking care of themself is the first step, giving them the energy to take care of the planet. Taking care of themself means making time for activities that make them feel good. Enjoying hobbies and interests can only be beneficial for your teen. Encourage them to make time for these activities. Taking care of themself also means having good lifestyle habits (stable sleep routine, diet and physical activities). Encourage your teen in that regard as well.
  • Encourage your teen to take advantage of the outdoors. And why not go with them? Spending time in nature reduces stress and is an opportunity to reconnect with the present moment.

At home

  • Talk with your teen about what the family could do to adopt more eco-responsible practices, making sure that it all feels balanced for everyone. Your teen will feel your commitment and your support.

In brief

Climate change is a key issue in the news. As a society, we will be increasingly exposed to the impact of climate change in the future. The youth of today and tomorrow will be the most affected. Youth, and adults, will have to adapt to climate change, and resilience will allow them to do so by continuing to grow and thrive. Helping your teen develop their resilience is equipping them for life.

Resources and practical tools

1. For support:

If you are dealing with a situation that has you worried, do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a health and social services professional:

Community organizations: family centre, youth centre, etc.

Some community organizations offer support programs for parents of teenagers. Call your local organization for information.

School staff members

2. To learn more:

  • Tel-jeunes for their information on eco-anxiety and their help line.
  • Cent degrés for their report on eco-anxiety and kids, a growing problem. (French only)
  • Fondation Jeunes en Tête for their report on eco-anxiety, a growing problem for teens.
  • Le collectif écoémotions for their workshops and training programs to successfully cope with the social dimensions of climate change. (French only)

[1] World Meteorological Organization’s Expert Team on Climate Change Detection (2013). Climate change 2013. The scientific facts. The Working Group I contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Summary for decision makers https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/WG1AR5_SPM_brochure_fr.pdf

[2] Boivin, M. (2023, November 27). The ABCs of eco-anxiety [conference session]. 26th edition of the annual public health days, Quebec city, QC, Canada. https://www.inspq.qc.ca/jasp/ecoanxiete

Latest updates : November 2023

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