Children in regular contact with nature could suffer from eco-anxiety

Children are not immune to the phenomenon of eco-anxiety, that is the feeling of distress and powerlessness faced with environmental loss. — baona / pic via AFP
Children are not immune to the phenomenon of eco-anxiety, that is the feeling of distress and powerlessness faced with environmental loss. — baona / pic via AFP

BOULDER, Aug 7 — According to a recent study, the numerous benefits that spending time in nature imparts doesn't necessarily preclude the phenomenon of eco-anxiety, at times highly prevalent among children and adolescents, and possibly even more frequent among those who are used to regular excursions in the great outdoors.

Numerous studies have examined the beneficial effects that result from children being connected with nature. But few of these studies have investigated the psychological consequences brought on by issues of global warming and environmental loss.

To analyse these issues, Louise Chawla, a professor at the University of Colorado and a member of the British Ecological Society, reviewed numerous writings from the body of scientific literature (studies, articles and books) dedicated to the subject. The results of her study have been published in the journal People and Nature.

Children also experience eco-anxiety

The first observation of the latest review affirms that being connected to nature contributes to children's physical and psychological well-being as well as to their care and sense of responsibility for nature — their environmental awareness. But despite the numerous benefits mentioned in this meta-analysis, certain elements make the total picture somewhat darker.

“We need to keep in mind that children are inheriting an unravelling biosphere, and many of them know it. Research shows that when adolescents react with despair, they are unlikely to take action to address challenges,” notes Dr Chawla.

In other words, children and adolescents are not spared from the phenomenon of eco-anxiety, the feeling of distress and powerlessness when confronted with the dramatic effects of a planet whose resources are being depleted.

Positive attitude...

However, the study shows that several strategies used to reinforce the connections of children with nature and to support them in coping with environmental change can be effective. To start with, it's key to help young people learn what they can do to protect the environment and to understand that “decisions made today have the potential for positive impacts tomorrow.”

The study also notes that young people should feel capable of expressing their feelings in a safe context.

The report further emphasises that young people are more inclined to believe that a better world is possible when their friends, family and teachers listen to their fears and concerns attentively and receptively.

Dr Chawla also encourages researchers who study the advantages of the relationship between children and nature and those who study responses to environmental threats to work hand in hand.

“People who study children's connection with nature and those who study their coping with environmental risk and loss have been pursuing separate directions without referencing or engaging with each other,” said Dr Chawla. “I am arguing that researchers on both sides need to be paying attention to each other's work and learning from each other.” — AFP-Relaxnews