Children may be the key to getting their parents to acknowledge climate change

Throughout the past year, young people like Greta Thunberg, a Swedish 16-year-old, have been gaining the attention of adults around the world on the issue of climate change. Not only has this encouraged legislative bodies like the British Parliament to declare climate change an emergency but it’s also forced parents to listen to how urgent climate action is for their children. Now a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that children can increase their parents’ level of concern about climate change. As Scientific American reported, unlike adults, children’s “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.”The study also concluded that:

  • Child-to-parent intergenerational learning—that is, the transfer of knowledge, attitudes or behaviors from children to parents—may be a promising pathway to overcoming socio-ideological barriers to climate concern.
  • However, polarization over climate change persists, particularly in the United States, and levels of concern over climate change do not seem to match the severity of the imminent impacts.
  • Fathers and conservative parents showed the biggest change in attitudes, and daughters were more effective than sons in shifting their parents’ views.

Danielle Lawson, a social scientist at North Carolina State University and lead author of the study, explained to the LA Times that the results made her feel hopeful. She said that “Not only are we teaching kids in a way that prepares them for the future — because they are going to have to deal with the brunt of climate change — but it continues to empower their efforts to help bring all of us together to work toward solutions.” Previous experiments have shown that educating kids can spur changes in parents’ recycling habits and energy-saving behavior. Lawson and her colleagues wondered whether the same would apply for climate change.


Why This Matters: In the United States, political ideology is one of the biggest barriers to acknowledging climate change. It’s difficult for some people to separate their views from that of their peer group but kids have a previously-underestimated power to help their parents sympathize with their views. However, this also underscores the need to have mandatory comprehensive climate change education in all schools. Some states are still seriously lagging in their curriculum and teachers are still not routinely teaching the subject, despite their desire to do so.

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