APPARENTLY, psychologists are receiving a ‘growing volume of enquiries from teachers, doctors and therapists unable to cope‘. Tragically, some children have already been given psychiatric drugs as a result. The Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) ‘is campaigning for anxiety specifically caused by fear for the future of the planet to be recognised as a psychological phenomenon’. Caroline Hickman from the CPA said: ‘The fear is of environmental doom – that we’re all going to die.’
You might think you couldn’t make this up. However, as a parent, I can tell you that none of it comes as any surprise. In front of me I have a school book which my daughter used in Year Four when she was eight. In it she has written: ‘If we destroy rainforests, there will be more global warming. Many plants and animals live in the rainforest so if the rainforests are destroyed these plants and animals will become extinct. The rainforest is home to many tribes. If the rainforest is destroyed then all of the tribes will lose their homes and be homeless’. It’s got a big tick and the words ‘Excellent work!’ – from the teacher. All the rainforests destroyed? All the animals extinct? All the tribes homeless? No wonder kids are terrified. Where is the the nuance? Or the good news – such as that deforested areas can bounce back?
Last week a friend told me her 12-year-old daughter wants to stop eating meat – that’s British beef, to be clear – ‘because of the fires in the Amazon’. Uh? Her daughter picks up information about climate change from Instagram. My own daughters watch YouTube clips, often made by American teenagers, about how they can join the fight against climate change. A common thread is that they all need to become vegans.
I’m noticing a vicious circle whereby teenagers become vegans to help reduce climate change. (Never mind that most of the world’s agricultural land is unsuitable for crops; or the question if we all stop eating meat where will we grow the vast acreage of protein rich crops we’re going to need?) Then when they become vegan they become more depressed and anxious. It is not surprising given the evidence that vegetarian and vegan diets are linked to anxiety and depression. Then they shut themselves up in their rooms and spend yet more time on social media reading about how the world is going to end.
Frankly I can’t wait to give the whole lot of them large steaks, a lecture on being more sceptical about what they read on social media, and then send them out into the park to pick up litter and take a lead in improving the world.
But we are beset all round. My husband and I take our daughters to church on Sundays. This Sunday was ‘youth group’ where the teenagers go upstairs and spend the hour with youth leaders. Over Sunday lunch my husband asked the girls what they learned about. ‘Oh, we discussed the environment,’ they said. We did not enquire further. Perhaps we should have.
No, it never stops. But where the Daily Telegraph and the Climate Psychology Alliance get it wrong is to assume all this is mostly coming from parents. Not in my experience. Kids are bombarded with climate change fear by social media. More significantly it also comes from schools.
All I can do as a parent is push back with sound logic and facts. The most parents can do is their best to ensure that their kids will be positive and optimistic and get strong educations – mediated by them where necessary – anchored in science and reason. Such kids ought then be able to tackle the world’s problems. Yet society, the while, is doing its best to turn them into depressed heaps who console themselves with yet more social media and with ever less ability to act.
Schools have a number one responsibility for breaking this cycle, not stoking it further by allowing days off for Greta Thunberg-style protesting. Education and Schools Ministers – please take note.