Climate Anxiety: Is Technology to Blame?

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

How much information is too much? With all the articles, tweets, posts, clips, snaps, and pins portraying graphic details and devastating images of the many natural disasters around the world, it’s no wonder children, teenagers, and young adults are experiencing an unprecedented rise in anxiety. The whole situation seems beyond their sphere of control. They have their whole life ahead of them, and yet, they are afraid of what that life may look like and how long they will even live under the circumstances.

Side-effects of too much information

It’s certainly admirable that children are so interested in environmental issues and are able to access related information online, but how much information is too much? When children are exposed to such vividly traumatic images at an early age, how will this affect their mental, emotional, and physical development? Will the catastrophes they witness have the same effect on them as experiencing domestic violence and abuse which causes long-term psychological damage? No one can truly tell the potential side-effects of growing up under such trauma. And yet, we cannot ignore it, nor should we.

Technology has become a tool to enhance our ability to share information across the globe like never before. A young girl in Norway can see images of horrific fires in Australia and read news reports of the one billion animals that lost their lives.

In one sense, technology has the ability to dismantle borders between countries and traverse seas and oceans. The Norwegian girl can feel a strong connection with her Australian sisters and brothers who may have lost their homes or their livelihood. However, the more dangerous side of technology is when this information (and the sharing of information with friends) becomes too much, opening a floodgate of information that overloads and clutters young minds with videos and images that play over and over in their heads.

When children are growing up, it is equally important to feed them healthy information as it is to feed them nutritious food. Their minds are so malleable that we, as a society, must be careful with what we allow technology to feed them.

If we are not careful, in years to come we may see a surge in the need for therapy for these children when they become adults. Mental health and wellbeing is already a large societal concern without these extra cases.

A new globalised anxiety

The great difference between climate anxiety and anxiety caused by other experiences such as domestic violence or abuse is that the cause of violence-related anxiety is isolated while the cause of climate anxiety is globalised. Any child, regardless of the nature of the family environment they are raised, can fall victim to climate anxiety. And the biggest reason for this globalised effect is because of technology and the Internet.

A child cannot be taken out of the climate crisis and be placed in a safe home. The entire earth is their home so they cannot escape their traumatic situation. They are trapped to continue facing the abuse, particularly when their wifi gadgets are always within arm’s reach.

Finding balance in a high-tech world and paving a new way forward

How can we find the balance between the benefits of technology for information sharing and global unity and the detrimental side of technology that may lead to increases in mental health problems? Is it possible to provide a balanced environment for children and young people so they can learn in a healthy way without being assaulted with a tidal wave of ecological devastation and destruction?

There is a way, but that way involves us older adults actually being adults and starting to take responsibility for the world we have created and the world we are creating. Being a responsible environmental adult needs to become a daily contemplation that drives our decisions, actions, and lifestyle.

Children learn more from what they observe adults doing, not what they are told to do. When adults start living environmentally conscious lives, talking optimistically about taking care of our planet, and taking real positive eco-actions, children will feel a greater sense of security in their home, schools, and the wider community.

If we all started to do this, the news and media that they see online and share with friends would contain more stories and images of hope, positive action, and strong adult role models and leadership. And this responsibility doesn’t just lie with parents, but every adult.

Mindfully engaging

An additional responsibility for parents is to devote time to be with children in an unrushed and focused manner. We need to listen to their questions, their fears, their doubts, and their sadness and have real conversations with them instead of palming them off to technological nannies. In a nature-deprived world, it’s even more important to be mindful when communicating. Children shouldn’t grow up dependent on their gadgets for human connection, validation, and interaction. Technology can be life-enhancing and aid in digital learning when it is used as an adjunct to physical relationships rather than a replacement.

Finally, we all need to educate ourselves about what is happening to our natural environment. We can then provide more adequate support, guidance, and compassion to those young and precious souls that will one day inherit the earth that hopefully, we have saved for them.

Copyright © James Golding 2020

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