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…