Children Change Their Parents’ Minds about Climate Change

Children are leading the fight to address the climate emergency. Are you listening? Is your Member of Parliament listening?

Study of students schooled on the issue showed them going on to shift their elders’ attitudes

Children Change Their Parents' Minds about Climate Change
Swedish environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg addresses politicians, media and guests with the British Houses of Parliament on April 23, 2019 in London, England. Her visit coincides with the ongoing “Extinction Rebellion” protests across London, which have seen days of disruption to roads and transport systems, in a bid to highlight the dangers of climate change. Credit: Leon Neal Getty Images

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg became famous this spring for launching a student movement to compel adults to take action on climate change. Instead of going to school, Greta has been spending her Fridays in front of the Swedish parliament with a sign reading: “School Strike for Climate.” Students in more than 70 countries have since followed her lead. But before she started trying to convince the world to take action, Thunberg worked on her parents. She showered them with facts and showed them documentaries. “After a while, they started listening to what I actually said,” Thunberg told the Guardiannewspaper. “That’s when I realized I could make a difference.”

Thunberg is not alone. Other young people can be equally convincing, according to a paper published May 6 in Nature Climate Change. The team of social scientists and ecologists from North Carolina State University who authored the report found that children can increase their parents’ level of concern about climate change because, unlike adults, their views on the issue do not generally reflect any entrenched political ideology. Parents also really do care what their children think, even on socially charged issues like climate change or sexual orientation.

Postulating that pupils might be ideal influencers, the researchers decided to test how 10-to-14–year-olds’ exposure to climate change coursework might affect, not only the youngsters’ views, but those of their parents. The proposed pass-through effect turned out to be true: teaching a child about the warming climate often raised concerns among parents about the issue. Fathers and conservative parents showed the biggest change in attitudes, and daughters were more effective than sons in shifting their parents’ views. The results suggest that conversations between generations may be an effective starting point in combating the effects of a warming environment. “This model of intergenerational learning provides a dual benefit,” says graduate student Danielle Lawson, the paper’s lead author. “[It prepares] kids for the future since they’re going to deal with the brunt of climate change’s impact. And it empowers them to help make a difference on the issue now by providing them a structure to have conversations with older generations to bring us together to work on climate change.” MORE

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