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Are we Robbing our Children of the Ability to Believe in a Positive Future?

Quite by accident, I have had a number of worrisome conversations with teachers recently about the ability of their students to dream of a better future. When asked to write about their future or humanities future, a consistent observation is that many (if not all) of their students do not see humanity and earth surviving. Period end stop. Their future appears resigned to be dystopian or apocalyptic.

The trending and focus in the news and media these past few years does rather support this. Particularly with the climate crisis and global warming.

“As a society, we needed a term to describe how we are feeling about [the] climate [crisis]… Psychologists dubbed it eco-anxiety. And while it is not a clinical diagnosis, it is a real experience for many people, and especially youth” (Wise Harris, 2019).

 

There is also report from the American Psychological Association (APA) regarding eco-anxiety: March 2017 Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance.

 

With a number of recent articles about it from reasonable sources.. most focused on youth:

BBC March 2019: ‘Eco-anxiety’: how to spot it and what to do about it

CBC News September 2019: Eco-anxiety spurs youth to take action on climate change

CTV News September 2019: Hopeless or hopeful? How eco-anxiety affects kids and youth

Reuters September 2019: Children suffering eco-anxiety over climate change, say psychologists

NBC News October 2019: Climate change is causing ‘eco-anxiety’ ― here’s what we can do

Time Magazine November 2019: Terrified of Climate Change? You Might Have Eco-Anxiety

Independent November 2019: Climate change activism ‘reducing mental health symptoms among young people

 

For myself, I remember growing up thinking that despite the cold war we were all optimistic about our future. This was in spite of the dark dystopian and apocalyptic science fiction classics. The positive aspects of the Star Wars and Star Trek ecosystems were entirely possible. This is despite the fact that the Star Trek ecosystem was noticeably left wing.

I am still optimistic. I wrote a post in March 2019 about how we could turn things around: Two Technologies that Could Regenerate Our Planet. Despite all of the negativity and challenges ahead, I do believe we will be able to overcome these challenges and heal the damage. It is one of the reasons I am so passionate about sustainable project management as a catalyst to empower the required positive change.

More importantly though, back to our children, are we properly providing them with the tools, awareness and examples for them to hope and dream for a better future? I think we need to help provide an environment to reduce these fears or redirect them to something positive. Though I am absolutely not trained in psychology and my opinion is less than relevant here, I must confess the APA recommendations seemed a little defeatist:

 

Some other suggestions that I personally thought were helpful for children in dealing with stress though are (Fitzsimons, 2019 & Cuttler, 2019):

  • Guide them on how to use social media wisely to reduce the constant barrage of negativity
  • Empower them to ease anxiety by taking action (as many of the students are doing now with their protests)
  • Empower them to become an advocate (as many of the students are doing now)
  • Connect with others
  • Provide them with positive stories and examples so they can stay positive and focus on progress

 

As importantly, we need to encourage and empower our children to dream of the wondrous positive opportunities and future that is ahead of them!

There was a recent market explosion of adult colouring books. These colour by number books were supposed to relieve stress and inspire creativity. The funny thing is that adults have lost the desire and the ability to free-style draw on a blank piece of paper. That is apparently too stressful for us. There was something relaxing about colouring in the little spaces provided to us with whatever colours caught our fancy. Children haven’t. They will doodle and create anytime anywhere on a piece of paper.

Lets help them remove their fear of thinking about the future so they can dream big and visualize a wondrous tomorrow that we haven’t thought of again… just like we used to…

 

References

Busby Education Correspondent, Eleanor. “Climate Change Activism ‘Reducing Mental Health Symptoms among Young People’.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 28 Nov. 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/climate-change-school-strikes-mental-health-students-children-a9225081.html?amp.
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Caprino, Kathy. “6 Positive Mindsets That Give Your Dream Its Best Chance To Soar.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 20 Mar. 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2017/03/17/6-positive-mindsets-that-give-your-dream-its-best-chance-to-soar/#46087a957b90.
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Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica, March 2017, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/mental-health-climate.pdf
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Cuttler, Marcy. “Eco-Anxiety Spurs Youth to Take Action on Climate Change.” CBC News, CBC Radio Canada, 21 Sept. 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/eco-anxiety-1.5291500.
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Elks, Sonia. “Children Suffering Eco-Anxiety over Climate Change, Say Psychologists.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 19 Sept. 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-climate-children/children-suffering-eco-anxiety-over-climate-change-say-psychologists-idUSKBN1W42CF.
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Fawbert, Dave. “Climate Change: Are You Suffering from ‘Eco-Anxiety’?” BBC Three, BBC, 27 Mar. 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/b2e7ee32-ad28-4ec4-89aa-a8b8c98f95a5.
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Fitzsimons, Kim. “Climate Change Is Causing ‘Eco-Anxiety’ ― Here’s What We Can Do.” NBCNews.com, NBC Universal News Group, 29 Oct. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/climate-change-causing-eco-anxiety-here-s-what-we-can-ncna1066621.
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Forani, Jonathan. “Hopeless or Hopeful? How Eco-Anxiety Affects Kids and Youth.” CTVNews, CTV News, 24 Sept. 2019, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/hopeless-or-hopeful-how-eco-anxiety-affects-kids-and-youth-1.4608324.
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Garcia, Patricia. “If Climate Change Is Causing You Anxiety or Even Grief, Experts Say You Are Not Alone.” Vogue, Vogue, 19 Oct. 2018, https://www.vogue.com/article/eco-anxiety-grief-mental-health-climate-change.
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Milsom, Peter. “Two Technologies That Could Regenerate Our Planet.” Delivering a Better World, One Project at a Time., GPM Global, 27 Mar. 2019, http://www.blog.greenprojectmanagement.org/index.php/2019/03/27/two-technologies-regenerate-planet/.
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Nugent, Ciara. “How Eco-Anxiety Exploded Across the Western World.” Time, Time, 21 Nov. 2019, https://time.com/5735388/climate-change-eco-anxiety/.
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Schlanger, Zoë. “Climate Change Is Causing PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression on a Mass Scale.” Quartz, Quartz, 4 Apr. 2017, https://qz.com/948909/ecoanxiety-the-american-psychological-association-says-climate-change-is-causing-ptsd-anxiety-and-depression-on-a-mass-scale/.
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Sliwa, Jim. “Climate Change’s Toll On Mental Health .” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 29 Mar. 2017, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/climate-mental-health.
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Taylor, Alan. “Syria’s Long, Destructive Civil War.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 19 Dec. 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2012/12/syrias-long-destructive-civil-war/100426/.
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Wise Harris, Deb. “Eco-Anxiety: Despair Is Rising.” CMHA National, Canadian Mental Health Association, 17 Oct. 2019, https://cmha.ca/blogs/eco-anxiety-despair-is-rising.

Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

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