How To Talk To Your Kids About Climate Change

Photo: Alex Smith, Pexels

Of all the tough conversations we should be having with our kids as they grow up, I’ll admit that educating my son about climate change has not exactly been a priority. We’ve had conversations about death, disability, mental illness, racism, sexism, poverty and gun violence. All of those felt like important, pressing matters that he already has seen or experienced or could be exposed to at any point.

Climate change has felt like a problem that is farther off in the distance, or at the very least, like something he doesn’t need to know about quite yet.

The Dummies' Guide To Climate Change

The world is warming. There’s no longer any doubt of that. With a new report breaking down exactly how screwed we are, it’s time to back up and talk about the basics of the situation we’re in.

Read more

But I need to stop thinking that way. This needs attention right now.

I read this article in my local newspaper, which says that in 60 years, the climate where we live in eastern Pennsylvania will more closely represent the “humid, subtropical climes” of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Our winters will get wetter as our summers get drier. Our dairy cows will produce less milk. Our ability to produce (and export) electricity will suffer.

All of this will happen by the time my son is in his 60s and my (theoretical) grandchildren are my age. Suddenly, it feels impossible not to address it with him.

Still, like with any large, complex and anxiety-producing topic such as this, it’s not the sort of thing you spring on them one day with something like, “So, I think it’s time to tell you how we’re destroying the world for your generation.” Instead, it’s a topic you can start to address while they’re young and build upon as they get older and develop an ability to understand the issue on a deeper level.

(Oh, and don’t wait for them to learn about it in school. According to a 2016 report in Science Magazine, the median teacher only devotes 1-2 hours on the topic — and what they teach might not be totally accurate anyway.)

Start with the basics

No need to jump straight to scary statistics. Kids can start to understand how human actions affect nature as they learn a few basics. Talk about how the gasses we breathe out are the same gasses that plants breathe in (and vice versa). Talk about how we use the same water and air over and over, and how important it is for both to stay clean in order for all creatures — and the planet — to be healthy.

Help them develop a love of nature by regularly hiking, camping, gardening and reading about subjects like animals, oceans and forests. As they get older and can begin to understand the difference between “weather” and “climate” and start to form their own questions, you can introduce age-appropriate resources, such as NASA’s Climate Kids website.

Be honest but optimistic

Once kids are old enough to have a basic understanding of climate change, focus on the positives, even if you don’t feel particularly positive yourself. Explain that the first step to solving any problem is realising there is a problem; and thanks to many dedicated scientists, we have a lot of solid information that can help us begin to turn things around.

Emphasise that it’s not too late and lots of grown-ups are working together around the world to solve this problem. Focus on the little things your family can do at home to support those efforts.

Get them involved

Kids are naturally wired to want to help and taking some kind of action can give them hope and a sense of empowerment over the issue.

Plant a tree together to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Help them write a personal letter to members of parliament. Teach them about the importance of rainforests and offer a few suggestions for how they can prevent deforestation (here is a great list of ideas from the Rainforest Alliance).

Model environmentally conscious behaviour

Like with most things in parenting, one of the most effective ways to influence our kids is by modelling the behaviour we wish to see from them. That includes the obvious, like recycling, using second-hand or reusable goods, turning off the lights when you leave a room, lowering your thermostat and reducing the amount you drive.

But also make sure to show your kids what civic engagement looks like. Support green-space initiatives in your community and let your kids hear you call your representatives to weigh in on environmental policy. Model for them the importance of everyone taking ownership of the issue by doing your part in your home, in your community, and on a larger national and global scale.


Comments

    Probably worth mentioning that a big part of the reason many people don't take it seriously enough is because of decades of bad messaging.

    No-one cares that temperatures might be a couple degrees warmer if it means they get to wear summer clothes for more of the year, but that's not why scientists are freaking out about the two degrees til doom - it's the two degrees is what tips over the first domino in a long, complicated, scary chain that results in human exitinction and we might not be able to stop all the dominos from falling if it goes past a certain point.

    Look this is the human race and corporations we are talking about here. Even when corporations straight out know whats really happening they will delay not only doing things but will actively campaign including donating to politicians to stop any changes that effect the bottom line.

    At best we will end up with changes twice as bad as thing are at the moment, at worse.. Well let's just say it's interesting to be living at the high point of human civilisation.

    It's great to get kids involved it's their futures that will be screwed beyond recognition if things keep going on track

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now