Discussing the Psychological Impact of the Climate Crisis On Children – I

My main aim is to explain the impact of consumer habits on the climate crisis to children in the 8-10 age group within the Kreta the Time Traveler Project, applied by Project Zoom, supported by Impact Hub and the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul. Although we had dreamed of and planned the project stages, we came across other needs during the journey. I noticed that I want to know about the impact of my book and the video on children at some point. Because our issue is huge, difficult and crucial: The Global Climate Crisis!

We should keep the climate crisis in the spotlight by talking about it repeatedly, and put pressure on decision-makers. While we are discussing whether to include children in this matter, they have already become involved. The climate crisis is now a hot topic among children, too. But how they have been affected by this situation? Are they afraid of the climate crisis when they hear about it from news channels and their peers?

Questions followed questions, and I decided to consult professionals. I met with dear teachers Canan, Ramazan and Yasemin for this purpose. Canan is a guidance counsellor in a state school working on environmental education projects and volunteering with non-governmental organizations for children’s rights and nature. Ramazan is a guidance counsellor interested in children’s rights, the equal participation of children in education, different learning methods and dramatization, in a primary school. Yasemin is a sociology graduate guidance counsellor working in cooperation with climate activist children at TED Eskişehir College. She is also a member of Eskişehir Gelişim Vakfı and a change ambassador for Teachers Network. I hope that the answers given by our teachers, with their rich knowledge and experience, will be eye-opening for everyone working in this field, as they were for me.

P.S. We have published this interview in three parts due to its length. You can read the other parts under the titles of “Discussing the Psychological Impact of the Climate Crisis On Children – II” and “Discussing the Psychological Impact of the Climate Crisis On Children – III”.

– What kind of problem is the climate crisis? How do you interpret this concept in terms of psychology?

Ramazan Özkan – Canan Çağdavul: It is a developmental problem and a pre-post-continuum process. Although the physical consequences are generally emphasized, the psychological dimensions should also be handled with the same attention. Some studies that aim to raise awareness of the issue among people who have not been directly affected by the consequences of the climate crisis, such as flooding, mass and sudden deaths, or hunger, can sometimes be confusing. On the other hand, apart from the physical symptoms of climate change, the effects include developing the belief that the world is not a safe place, not being able to belong, turning to crime, and a tendency to violence. These can be considered to be psychological effects that affect social structures. While the causes of the climate crisis (consumer habits, individualism, etc.) are the interest and research fields of psychology, studies of its effects (anxiety, trauma, stress disorders, violence and criminal tendencies) are also commonly studied phenomena in psychology.

Yasemin Gültekin: The climate crisis is a problem that bothers all of us. Aren’t we all deeply interested in leaving future generations a better, more sustainable world? I think that this is one of the main reasons underlying the popularization of “back to basics, simplicity, sustainable life” issues recently. When we look back through world history, we have never seen a period like this that brings children to the center of the family and brings individualism to the fore. The main concern of many parents is finding out how to feed their children more healthily and increase the time they spend in natural environments. This is why pedagogical approaches such as the Waldorf forest school are so popular. But I think we live in a world of white-collar parents, who are drowning their children in courses (piano, basketball or third language courses on weekends) to create a competitive infrastructure for capitalist society’s needs, but cannot spend effective time with their children.

– How should the climate crisis be explained to children? How should we share this with children, especially when we know that this is a human-induced crisis?

R.Ö. – C.Ç.: We can begin with how we should not share this with children. When we look at this issue, we often view it with nostalgia and the belief that we can solve this problem if we return to the conditions of the past. The climate crisis is a developmental process and sustainability is the most important area that we should focus on. Children can therefore take responsibility and put their living environment in order. However, they did not cause or support this crisis, so they are not responsible for feeling guilty.
We need to consider carefully the point of view from which we look at the problem. We cannot solve the problem by saying, “This problem belongs to adults; they have a right to decide on it but they do not implement it.” Children will probably respond by saying, “I am not strong enough to solve this.” And if we say, “You are also responsible because you bought a lot of toys”, they will feel guilty. At this point, it is essential to show children how they can change their behavior and to help develop the right attitudes. In addition, it is vital to equip children with the necessary attitudes, morals, information and environmental abilities for a better and healthier life.

When describing climate change and its effects, it is an effective method in early childhood to concretize and make use of metaphors, stories, and puppets. Considering the project age group (8-10), we see that it is an age group that has the ability to carry out concrete operations, understand what the term “crisis” means, and grasp its causes and results.

In this context, we can give more technical information about environmental education, climate change and the climate crisis. The key point here is to encourage children after education to think “What can I do to control this problem?”, not “I am guilty of this problem.” During the conversation, asking questions to raise awareness will make the process more positive and effective. “If you woke up one morning and realized that all the problems that we had talked about before had disappeared, how would you first recognize this?” “If you had the chance to change this situation, what would you change?” “How would you spend your day if you thought as if these problems had disappeared?”.

Y.G.: We should be good examples as adults by emphasizing the importance of our planet. I don’t believe that didactic monologues are an effective way to communicate with children. It is very important to provide protective, preventive and inspiring activities against the climate crisis and to allow children to do group work with their imaginations. Because if a child thinks and imagines with their friend, this will help them to interiorize the information even if the project is never applied. By nature, children tend to produce more sensitive and creative solutions to animal and environmental issues than adults.

– There are many things we need to change and many struggles to alleviate the Climate Crisis, in order to make a “soft landing”. Do you find it right to involve children in this struggle?

R.Ö. – C.Ç.: Children are already part of this struggle and want to intervene. They see themselves as climate activists and they are becoming successful in this area. We can see Atlas as an example from Turkey. However, we should look at how this situation is perceived by the age group in question. The following question may come up; so why are people still buying and selling, as consumption continues rapidly, with nobody taking responsibility? At this point, it is necessary to give personal responsibility to the child and focus on their own life and what they can do, and to glorify their individual value. “We, as a family, as individuals, do our part and create an environment that thinks and behaves like us.” Evolution of lifestyle based on this thought provides an effective and permanent change.

Y.G.: The person who has shaped public opinion about the climate crisis most significantly is Greta. Some people may remember that a child named Zlata wrote a book about the war in Sarajevo, shaped public opinion on the topic and put the issue of the impact of the war on children on the agenda by creating campaigns that enabled many institutions and organizations to take action.
Children hear about everything, even more rapidly than adults. They live in a world where communication tools and media are everywhere. I think that it is a useless effort to think that children are not allowed to comment on their planet. Parents should be talking to their children about every topic that children are ready for. Aiming for “How we can create a better world?”, not paying attention to the dystopias of “The world is coming to an end”. Showing that you can do useful things for the world by creating zero waste houses or simplified garbage, making compost; showing that these small steps are actually a very important part of the big picture. Showing the child what he can do by touching the soil with his hand, not by writing rebellious sentences on social media, actually constitutes the most important infrastructure of this struggle.