Parenting

Connecting To Nature Is Good For Kids – But They May Need Help Coping With A Planet In Peril

Connecting To Nature Is Good For Kids – But They May Need Help Coping With A Planet In Peril
Deep worry about climate change and biodiversity loss can affect kids’ mental health.
Kira Hofmann/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

As an environmental psychologist who works to improve young people’s access to nature, I recently completed a review that brings two bodies of research together: one on connecting children and adolescents with nature, and the second on supporting healthy coping when they realize they are part of a planet in peril.

My review shows that children and adolescents benefit from living near nature and having adults in their lives who encourage free play and outdoor discovery. When they feel connected to nature, they are more likely to report good health and a sense of well-being, more likely to get high scores for creative thinking, and more inclined to show cooperative, helping behaviors. They are also more likely to say they are taking action to conserve nature, such as by feeding birds, saving energy and recycling.

On the flip side, lack of access to nature has adverse effects. For example, COVID-19 restrictions on travel and social gathering led more people to visit parks to escape stress and move freely. But some families don’t have safe, attractive parks nearby, or their local parks are so heavily used that it’s hard to maintain safe distances. Under these conditions, city families stuck indoors reported mounting stress and deteriorating behavior in their children.

My research literature review also shows that feeling connected with nature can bring difficult emotions as well as happiness and well-being. When young people are asked about their hopes and fears for the future, many describe environmental breakdown. For example, when a doctoral student I supervised asked 50 10- to 11-year-olds in Denver what the future would be like, almost three-quarters shared dystopic views:

“Everything will die out, and there will be less trees and less plants, and there will be less nature. It just won’t be such a great Earth anymore.”

“I feel sad because the animals are going to die.”

“I feel sad because when I die I am probably gonna have a grandson or a great grandson by then and maybe them or their son or nephew is going to have to experience the end of the world.”

Children who worry about the environment are likely to report that they are doing what they can to protect nature, but they almost always report individual actions like riding their bike to school or saving energy at home. Knowing that climate change and biodiversity loss are bigger problems than they can solve themselves can affect their mental health.

Fortunately, the research also shows some key ways adults can help children and teens work through these feelings and maintain hope that they – in alliance with others – can address environmental problems constructively.

1. Create safe opportunities to share emotions

When family, friends and teachers listen sympathetically and offer support, young people are more likely to feel hopeful that people’s actions can make a positive difference. Opportunities to envision a promising future, plan pathways to get there and have hands-on experiences of working toward this goal also build hope.

2. Encourage time outdoors in nature

Free time in nature and opportunities to develop comfort and confidence in nature are positive experiences in themselves; and by boosting well-being, providing time in nature can contribute to young people’s resilience.

3. Build community with others who care for nature

Meeting other people who love and care for nature affirms young people’s own feelings of connection and shows them they’re not alone in working for a better world. Learning individual actions that add up to making a difference, or joining collective efforts to improve the environment, simultaneously demonstrate a sense of connection with nature and commitment to its care.

4. Empower their ideas

It’s important to treat young people as partners in addressing environmental problems in their families, schools, communities and cities. A boy who was part of a group of children who created climate action proposals for his city in the Mountain West summarized the benefits. After they presented their ideas to their city council and got approval to launch a tree-planting campaign, he noted, “There’s something about it … getting together, creating projects, knowing each other, working together.”

Research is clear: Children and young people need free time to connect with nature, but it’s also important to support them when they struggle with the consequences of feeling part of a natural world that is currently at risk.

About the AuthorThe Conversation

Louise Chawla, Professor Emerita of Environmental Design, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

books_ parenting

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

man and dog in front of giant sequoia trees in California
The Art of Constant Wonder: Thank you, Life, for this day
by Pierre Pradervand
One of the greatest secrets of life is to know how to constantly marvel at existence and at the…
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.
Horoscope: Week of November 29 - December 5, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
young boy looking through binoculars
The Power of Five: Five Weeks, Five Months, Five Years
by Shelly Tygielski
At times, we have to let go of what is to make room for what will be. Of course, the very idea of…
man eating fast food
It's Not About the Food: Overeating, Addictions, and Emotions
by Jude Bijou
What if I told you a new diet called the "It's Not About the Food" is gaining popularity and…
woman dancing in the middle of an empty highway with a city skyline in the background
Having the Courage to Be True to Ourselves
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Each one of us is a unique individual, and thus it seems to follow that each one of us has a…
Lunar eclipse through colored clouds. Howard Cohen, November 18, 2021, Gainesville, FL
Horoscope: Week of November 22 - 28, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
a young boy climbing to the top of a rock formation
A Positive Way Forward Is Possible Even in the Darkest Times
by Elliott Noble-Holt
Falling into a rut doesn’t mean we have to stay there. Even when it can seem like an insurmountable…
woman wearing a crown of flowers staring with an unwavering gaze
Hold That Unwavering Gaze! Lunar and Solar Eclipses November-December 2021
by Sarah Varcas
This second and final eclipse season of 2021 began on 5th November and features a lunar eclipse in…
Reclaiming Joy and Pleasure: Healing Deep, Inner Self-Loathing
Reclaiming Joy and Pleasure: Healing Deep Self-Loathing
by Lauren Walker
How we truly feel about ourselves must be considered when we talk about healing. Many of us have…
Horoscope Current Week: January 21 to 27, 2019
Horoscope Week: January 21 to 27, 2019
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
It’s Not Just Imagination, It’s Perception
It’s Not Just Imagination, It’s Perception
by Will Wilkinson
If you can remember when you learned to drive a car you will recall how difficult it was to focus…

Selected for InnerSelf Magazine

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.