Many adults are upset by news coverage of natural disasters, such as the wildfires currently raging in Australia, but sometimes we forget little eyes and ears are watching the same images and experiencing similar visceral reactions. Social scientists have long been discussing possible impacts of climate change on children. Recently, they’ve begun educating parents on how to soothe children’s fears and help them understand what’s going on around the globe.
How to Discuss Climate Change Fears With Children
In a new video released by Child Trends News Service, Ann Sanson, PhD, a developmental psychologist, explained how children exposed to extreme weather may be more prone to suffering from psychological issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and even learning problems.
In the video, Sanson advises parents of children who are either living through extreme weather, or have been exposed to it in the news, to have age-appropriate conversations with their kids.
“Helping children do something to address climate change is actually really good for their psychological well-being,” Sanson told Child Trends News Service, adding that parents should also be supportive of teen-activists fighting to make their voices heard in the global conversation about climate change.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long been sounding the alarm about how global climate is affecting their smaller patients. “The social foundations of children’s mental and physical health are threatened by the specter of far-reaching effects of unchecked climate change, including community and global instability, mass migrations, and increased conflict,” reads a statement on the AAP website, echoing Sanson’s sentiments from the Child Trends News Service video.
Physical Impacts of Climate Change
It’s not just mental health parents need to be worrying about when it comes to children and climate change. Turns out, children are more likely to be physically affected by climate change than adults.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) this happens because children are in a constant state of growth, so naturally take in more of their environment by breathing more oxygen, drinking more water, and eating more food in proportion to their weight than adults do. When there’s a scarcity of these items due to drought, pollution or contamination, children are hit harder than adults.
This can have both short-term and long-term effects, especially when it comes to their still-developing bodily systems. In some cases, exposure to environmental toxins during development can cause irreversible damage.
Exposure to Dangerous Conditions
While exposure to extreme weather brought on by climate change can cause mental and physical changes to a child’s development, there’s also a very real risk of permanent damage and loss of life.
Children who don’t know how to swim are at an increased risk of drowning when navigating rising floodwaters. Similarly, smaller children may not be as quick to take action during earthquakes or sudden hazardous weather events, leaving them vulnerable and endangered.
Experts agree that these fears, coupled with real-life exposure to similar events, leave children in an emotionally precarious state due to environmental changes. They advise parents have conversations with their kids and teach them coping skills.