Can kids save the world? With a little help, yes
It's not just about skipping school to attend a protest — it's about empathy and action
This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.
After a brief break over the summer, it's nice to get the column back up and running — just in time to think about the inevitable destruction of our planet!
With global warming threatening to reach an irreversible level unless drastic measures are taken on a global scale, it can be hard to find a glimmer of hope — but I have found thousands.
Thanks in large part to 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg — who has ignited a fire in the bellies of countless children and teens to take action and hold adults accountable for the poisoning of the planet — the youth have been out in full force; loudly demanding change and refusing to back down. Many parents have watched and supported their children as they've skipped school and lent their voices and hope to global protests.
But what happens when these groups of exuberant and like-minded youth dissipate and each child's personal ecosystem of school, family and friends takes precedence?
Vancouver teen Samantha Ling, an organizer with the youth climate group Sustainabiliteens, says that while we need to get kids to think about the bigger picture, they need to really feel how dire the situation is.
"Canada is not going to feel the most dire effects of climate change," says Ling. "It's an international issue and it's going to affect all of us."
We need to teach them to open their hearts to others and see how they can help, even if it isn't directly benefiting them. And we need to let them know what other people — who don't share their privilege — are experiencing. Empathy is key.
But it can be terrifying when you start explaining the state of the world to kids. "Climate grief" or "environmental anxiety" is something a lot of people of all ages struggle with, but it can be particularly difficult for younger children.
So how can a parent be honest without scaring everyone?
Kyle Empringham is co-founder of The Starfish Canada, which celebrates and supports youth activists and gives them a platform to spread their message and connect with like-minded individuals. Empringham says it's not just about telling your kids the facts; it's about what you say next.
"You can let people know this is a thing that is happening, and then the next thing you say is something that can invoke fear, or something that can invoke love. The sense of opportunity has a lot more advantages."
Greta Thunberg is great. But I don't think she's going to save the world. I don't think any one person will.
But I look at all the kids in my orbit, the ones I've seen grow from goofy, drooling babies to self-assured, clever teens and I realize how good they are. How much more aware they are. And how angry they are with the the generations before them who screwed up and left them a mess to deal with.
That's what's going to change the world. Anger can be an incredibly motivating force — and as parents we need to help our children channel that raw emotion into action.
Our kids are growing up in a terrifying reality — but it's one that can be altered. We just need to make sure we listen to the kids when they yell in protest, and do everything we can to make sure their voices are heard. Especially by us.