Climate change poses a significant threat to all living species. As people come to understand the urgency and the depth of the multi-layered problems and threats associated with the climate crisis, they may come to experience what journalists and some scholars have come to label “climate grief” or “climate anxiety.” Yet, there is very little literature available from the perspectives of children or their parents on what climate grief is and what to do about it. To fill this gap in knowledge, this honors thesis explores the dimensions of climate grief, how adolescents who are 12-17-years-old are coping, and how their parents support them. I also sought to understand how relatedness with nature played a role in these parenting strategies and what relationship this had with their children’s response. This research is important from a sociological perspective, as it helps put climate grief—and responses to it—in a broader social context. Through open-ended interviews with seven parents and their seven adolescent children, I learned that children and their parents do not have a single term to define their feelings about climate change. Next, I learned that parents use a range of parenting strategies to support their children but were often unaware of the depth of their child’s emotional distress concerning climate change. Moreover, parents and their children agreed that some parenting strategies worked, although the children and parents both deemed some more successful than others. Finally, children in this study reported needing more actionable support regarding their feelings about climate change, like spending more time outside as a family and more autonomy and encouragement in community involvement that promotes pro-environmental action and advocacy. This study has implications for sociological definitions of climate grief and for literature concerned with parenting children concerned about environmental change. Ultimately, this work can help inform parenting strategies that adults can use to support their children who experience emotional distress related to climate change.
Lori Peek (Chair)
Taylor Hirschberg is passionate about the intersections of human health and the natural environment, and how those influence global equity among marginalized populations.