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

This interview was conducted as part of the research and development studies for the children’s book Kreta the Time Traveler Project, applied by Project Zoom, supported by Impact Hub and the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul. The interview consists of three parts. Please begin by reading the first two parts, “Discussing the Psychological Impact of the Climate Crisis On Children I and II”. The questions were answered by guidance counselor Canan Çağdavul, psychological counselor Ramazan Özkan and Yasemin Gültekin, who is a PCG executive at TED Eskisehir College, a board member of Eskişehir Gelişim Vakfı and an ambassador for change for Teachers Network.

– Should we share indications of the Climate Crisis, such as the fact that taigas are burning in Russia and icebergs are melting? Could this make children anxious?

Ramazan Özkan – Canan Çağdavul: This situation should be shared with children. Perhaps this topic also provides an opportunity to create an environment where media literacy and digital literacy skills are learned and applied. Thus, infrastructure is created for how and from where to learn the most accurate and age-appropriate information. We shouldn’t say “These events are happening, will continue to happen, there is nothing you can do.”We should emphasize children’s individual contributions in working like ants, which will accomplish a huge amount by means of these small tasks they do as a community in the end.

Children should not have an isolated life in a bubble. Starting with the problems of the environment they live in, they should also know about the world’s problems and express their own thoughts about them. No matter how much we think we are hiding these issues as adults, children hear many things from social media and forward them to each other. We should introduce children to accurate, scientific information instead of false information.

Parents are coming to the guidance services and asking, “My child is feeling sad when he hears this. Does he need to know the difficulties of life now?” The key issue is how the child hears about these difficulties. If environmental problems are presented to the child with a fatalistic approach such as “this is a bigger problem than we can solve,” they can bring despair and guilt. Educators need to know the appropriate language and how much information to give according to the child’s age.

Yasemin Gültekin: I don’t think hiding any subject from children is an appropriate approach to protecting child psychology. I see children with anxiety disorders due to disaster scenarios as an exception. If the child has a diagnosed anxiety disorder or a condition that requires psychological support, of course, it would not be appropriate to talk about these issues directly. Children who think they live in a jar full of unicorns, cute dinosaurs, and pink clouds will get confused when faced with the facts.
Children can more told about difficult issues, including death, divorce, and the global climate crisis, while keeping the characteristics of their age group in mind. Some children learn about the topics via their families or investigate the subject because of a special interest and curiosity. These subjects are explained with parental support in accordance with the child’s age level. If there is a situation that causes anxiety, parents should not hesitate to seek professional support.

– Due to the Climate Crisis, food safety is at risk. We even need to change our eating habits, such as consuming less dairy and meat. I am not talking about being a vegetarian or vegan, but how should we talk to children about consuming less dairy and meat?

R.Ö. – C.Ç.: After becoming parents, it gets harder to talk about ethics. Many parents discuss this issue, and each of them decides on their own child’s diet according to their beliefs. This issue may be solved by global politics, not by individual choices. Thus, parents can be saved both from public pressure and from their consciences.
We have been working on environmental awareness with children for so long. Children know most environmental concepts, but our observation is that they need to be in nature and touch the soil. A pre-school or a primary school student might have heard about composting, which reminds them of a worm. As long as they do not move on to the next stage and take that compost to a plant and see the difference practically, they cannot go beyond knowledge. There are more projects, studies, and activities for children than ten years ago, but we have to put into practice what these mean in children’s world. We should keep in contact with children to nurture hope.

Y.G.: Dietary choices are under the control of parents until children can cook for themselves. Eating habits are a cultural issue. They may vary between individuals. Families who are sensitive to this issue will raise their children with these morals. Nutrition is a routine habit. I think that the world will be vegetarian and vegan in the end. But children’s tastes and choices are equally important in this matter.
The child may love milk. If we want to get the child out of the habit of consuming some things, we can do it by seasoning new food to resemble the taste the child is accustomed to, for example by giving them almond milk flavored with herbs, according to the features of the child’s age group. However, being strict or overly anxious about this issue or imposing prohibitions may cause the child to be more curious or to have an excessive craving for certain foods while eating with friends.
This issue involves both personal and family values as well as the future of the planet. If the family environment is suitable, weekly menus can be prepared to appeal to all family members. The important point here is to prepare food inclusively and to respect the boundaries of the person in the family who prefers a different diet.

Questions answered specifically by TED College:

– How did your institution support the climate protests and conduct the process?

Yasemin Gültekin: We conducted the process synchronously with our headquarters and all TED schools. Our students, who showed their creativity with the banners they prepared together or individually, according to the characteristics of their age group, were pleased to support a global campaign. Of course, there had been a preliminary process for this issue, because we want to create awareness of the environment in our children from a young age. In this sense, the children were aware of what they were there for.

– How did the climate protests affect your students and their families?

Y.G.: Seeing that all age groups from kindergarten to high school are of one heart and feel stronger by acting together and experiencing the pleasure of supporting a child’s desire to change the world was one of the best experiences a teacher ever has. But the biggest impact has been on the children; I think that the number of children who teach parents to forcibly separate garbage at home, pay attention to the water they use because water resources are running out, and turn off the lights, has increased substantially. We have never received any negative feedback. Although we haven’t made a proper assessment, I can only say that it is positive, based on the feedback.

– Did the participation of children in these activities cause a change or differentiation within the institution?

Y.G.: It will surely have long-term and short-term effects. However, if teachers at school and families at home are sensitive, a sustainable awareness is created in the child. We are hopeful that they can show greater determination in changing their habits. We teachers enjoy watching the changes in children after such big campaigns. We don’t want this to be a popular topic and then die down quickly. We try to create opportunities for the children to create habits that they can sustain.