Parents backing child climate activists gives them hope

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg participates in a youth climate change protest in front of the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan. (Reuters pic)

NEW YORK: From standing by their child’s side and keeping them safe to leaving their job entirely, rising numbers of parents are supporting activist children as they skip school to protest – but also hiding some of their worst fears about climate change.

“They’re scared, but I think they look to us as their biggest allies and supporters,” said Teresa Elguera, 49, a teaching consultant from Brooklyn, who took her nine-year-old son Aaron to a protest at City Hall in New York on Friday.

Parents have largely stayed in the background while their children, led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, have spearheaded a worldwide wave of climate protests.

That culminated in about 4 million people marching globally last Friday ahead of a United Nations climate summit on Monday where Thunberg made an emotional plea to world leaders to act.

“We need to give real and honest information, but we need to watch our children and see how much they can take in,” said Elguera, a mother-of-two, who takes Fridays off work to accompany her youngest son to the “climate strike” protests.

“We need to get enough space to handle our own fears so that we can have space to then listen to our children.”

“I’m glad she supports me because if she didn’t I would have no way of getting here,” said Aaron, holding a “SAVE our MOTHER” sign.

The Climate Psychology Alliance, a UK-based group of psychologists, has warned children are increasingly suffering anxiety and grief about climate change, and advised parents to acknowledge their fears and offer them support in taking action.

The American Psychological Association said they were aware of reports of growing “eco-anxiety” in children, but research was needed to establish how common it is.

Youth climate advocacy group, Sunrise Kids, arranged an event on Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations’ key annual meeting for worried adults to discuss “parenting in the age of climate crisis”.

Many echoed a desire to not frighten their children when talking to them about climate change.

“We want our kids to feel safe. We need to let them know it’s an existential crisis but without them feeling scared,” said Mark, the father of a nine-year-old, who didn’t want to give his second name.

Talking of the future

“The feeling of guilt is something that I see a lot amongst parents. How do you talk about the uncertainty of our future to your children?” said Jill Kubit, director of Dear Tomorrow, an organisation that shares hopeful messages about the climate.

Children “deeply feel that we’re taking away their dreams and hope,” said Kubit, who has a six-year-old son.

But the children at Friday’s protests in New York, which saw just a handful take time off school compared to thousands a week before, said their parents were not at fault.

“I do not blame my parents for climate change, I blame world leaders for not listening to the signs soon enough,” said Alexandria Villasenor, 14, one of the faces of the climate movement in the United States.

“My parents are the greatest example of an adult ally because they support my activism, they amplify my message and they protect me.”

Her mother, Kristin Hogue, who accompanied her daughter to protest outside the United Nations headquarters on Friday, said she “basically just did anything that she asks me to do.”

“You deal with your guilt by taking action,” she said.

Parents should tell their children about climate change, said 15-year-old Kallan Benson, from Maryland, whose first “school strike”, inspired by Greta Thunberg, was last December.

“I hear so many people say this is too scary of an issue. Well, yeah, it’s scary, but that’s one of the reasons we need to know,” said Benson, outside City Hall.

“We need to know what’s going to happen … with that knowledge comes empowerment.”

Benson’s mother Kimberly, 54, a former marine scientist, said she and her husband did not have jobs and were using their retirement savings to support Benson’s activism and that of her 14-year-old brother.

“Honestly there’s no point in saving for the future if we don’t save the future,” she said.