Krista Kurth, Ph.D.
How to Be a Resource on Climate for Your Teens
Tips for Supporting Youth Engagement in Climate Action
Do you have teenagers in your life? If so, my guess is they feel as concerned as you are, if not more so, about the impact of the changing climate on the planet.
They should worry. They are the generation who have never known a world without the impending and growing threat of climate catastrophe. They can see what lies ahead for them and are raising their voices to demand that those in power take action now.
While they are taking leadership and have moral clarity on the state of the world, it’s a heavy burden for them to carry. Like the adults in their lives, they probably feel overwhelmed by climate news on social media. They are also weary of pushing against the tide of inadequate action by leaders in the world. Addressing the climate crisis should not rest on their shoulders. They should be able to enjoy their youthful years.
Alas, being carefree about the world is not in the cards for them. Given their current reality, how do we, as parents, grandparents, teachers, and community leaders, support them?
Mary DeMocker, author of the Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution, says that parents have a challenging role to play as the young activists in their lives join the climate movement. Instead of abandoning them, we must join them in a way that gives them the space to lead.
We can all support the young emerging leaders around us, even if we are not parents of a teenage activist. Here are some ways that we can use our adult experience, resources, and power to empower the youth in our lives and amplify their voices.
1. Listen to Them
Actively listen to your teens and join them where they are. When you do this, you will not only learn what they are thinking and interested in, but will also lighten the emotional burden they carry about climate change.
Be humble and let them lead the conversation. Find out what they need.
Be open to learning from them. They may surprise you by knowing more than you do.
Ask them questions and reflect back their thoughts. Encourage them to ask you climate change questions. Research answers together.
You can learn more tips for talking with kids about the climate crisis here, and more on active listening here.
2. Support Them in Developing Resilience
Like all of us, our young advocates can feel emotionally taxed by the enormity of the climate emergency and all that work the world needs to do. They likely feel what psychotherapist Jamaal S. Abdul-Alim calls eco-anxiety. Or they may be angry that adults aren’t doing more to stop climate change. They need support in learning ways to deal with their feelings.
Validate their feelings. Help them accept that what they are feeling is normal. Share your feelings with them.
Remind them, as Swedish psychologist Maria Ojala suggests, they are not alone. Many people around the world are working on solutions.
Help them build optimism and a positive vision of a future where communities are stronger, have better health and more equality.
Spend time with them focusing on what is good and beautiful in the world.
Encourage them to take breaks from the news and activism to have some normal fun.
Share the strategies you’ve used to relieve stress, like mindfulness or movement. Ask them what they find helps relax them, perhaps activities like music, journaling or art. I find the practices of Tapping, Compassionate Abiding, and Tonglen to be very helpful.
3. Encourage Their Climate Action
Action is one of the best ways to deal with worry. Help your teen channel their feelings and take action. They will feel empowered and learn new skills, particularly if you don’t overstep and take the lead.
If they are not already aware of organizations in the youth climate movement, like the International Youth Climate Movement, Zero Hour, and Fridays for Future, assist them in finding one that feels like a fit and draws on their strengths.
Share news articles and stories with them that show their peers making a difference.
Join them in going to a local climate change event or protest. Or invite them to join you in a climate activity, but don’t force your own agenda.
Be a background ally. Support their action only as needed. Express appreciation for the actions they are taking. Recognize the historic moment the youth movement is creating for us all.
Support them in being safe and taking care of themselves when taking climate action.
4. Amplify Their Voice
Young people rightfully have a lot to say these days. They are fed-up with the systems that created the mess of a world in which we now live, and which they had no part in putting into place. Jamie Margolin, co-executive director of Zero Hour and a leader in the Youth Climate Movement, aptly claims in her recent book that their desire for a better world is legitimate. They will live longer on the planet than the adults now destroying it and they bring fresh and urgent motivation to addressing the climate crisis.
However, even though The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children and young people have a right to have their views listened to, and have input into decisions that affect them, those in power don’t always include them. They need resources and platforms from those who have power and money. Young people can do anything with an appropriate amount of support.
Give your kids materials to support their advocacy. For example: Jamie Margolin’s book, Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It outlines how to leverage youth’s moral authority to make systems change. Read it and discuss it with them.
Provide them the resources they need to get involved. Drive them to events or provide funds for public transportation. Purchase supplies for making posters and banners they can hold up during climate rallies.
Ask leaders of adult-organized events to include youth voices. If they don’t know who to include, give them names of teens in your area who can read a letter or make a speech during the event.
Offer to give feedback on letters they write to corporate and government leaders. Help them powerfully state what they think and care about.
Pay for them to attend a youth advocacy or climate leader training, like the Youth Climate Leaders Peer Education Program, Youth Leader Climate Pods, or a Global Climate Corps program.
Encourage them to connect with and learn from opportunity-climate justice youth who have different backgrounds. Often young people who have faced issues are the ones who can best advocate and be agents of change.
Join them in learning how best to talk with their peers about climate. There is a way in which we can all speak up without tearing down. Loretta Ross, author of the forthcoming book Calling In the Calling Out Culture: Detoxing Our Movement, calls this method Calling In. Instead of shaming someone who thinks differently about climate, we can patiently ask questions to explore what the other person believes, working intentionally to expand our perspectives. This increases the potential for learning. Nonviolent Communication is another effective method to explore.
Support them in advocating for broader climate engagement at school. Write letters together to your local school board, high school principal, and science teachers asking them to add to the climate change curriculum. Include educator resources like the Climate Educator Guide provided by the Rainforest Alliance.
Make a donation to, or volunteer as background support with, a Youth Climate Movement organization.
As Robert Bullard, a professor and father of environmental justice, is quoted as saying in this excellent article on the power of intergenerational climate activism, it’s crucial that we empower young people to assume the leadership they’re seeking. It is our job to mentor, assist, and support them.
What will you do to stand with, not in front of, the youth climate activists around you?
How will you be a resource to them?
How will you help them create a unified and resilient world in which they and future youth can thrive?
I’d love to know what’s grabbing your attention or what questions are running through your mind. Let me know in the comments section. I’ll respond in one of my blog posts.
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All the best,
Krista / Eco-Omi