Teenage climate activism

On Friday March 15, tens of thousands of school students across the world will march in the streets to protest our generation’s climate paralysis.

They’ll be nervous, laughing, being like teenagers, but they’ll have a deep fear running inside them.

They are the most informed generation in history, and they believe in facts and science.

And that science tells them their lives may end badly, long before they reach our age.

Inspired by the astonishing Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, they will be acting on her words “We can’t save the world by playing by the rules. So the rules have to change”.

I believe its not only acceptable, but essential for the mental health of young people that they can act on their greatest fears, and that we go along and stand with them, to restore their faith in our generation - in our credibility as parents.

Parents have been intensely debating what to do about the student strike. Should they let their children attend, will it cause problems with their school, and of course, will it be safe?

I canvassed dozens of schools, and most just need an email from parents.

There is actually admiration, and support from many teachers and schools, since this is caring in action.

I believe its not only acceptable, but essential for the mental health of young people that they can act on their greatest fears, and that we go along and stand with them, to restore their faith in our generation - in our credibility as parents.

The mental health of young people is fragile, suicide has ticked upwards suddenly in the past five years, anxiety and depression stalk every classroom and bedroom.

But the research shows that mental health improves when you act - and kids whose parents are working to improve the world, and include them in that, have more resilient and hopeful kids.

Greta Thunberg asks the question that most young people have been asking - if we are really in danger, why is so little happening?

It's actually a psychological problem.

Human beings were designed for the savannah, where danger comes on fast.

Understanding a relentless slow moving threat is hard for our brains.

In my childhood in Yorkshire we knew we had six minutes to live after the nuclear sirens sounded.

But the birds still sang in the sky, and mum had dinner on the stove.

Yet the danger was real, and people worked to mitigate it. So we are still here.

I don’t think small children need to go to rallies about the end of the world.

They are not ready for that understanding, just as we wouldn’t want them to know about rape or torture. Those are our jobs to eradicate.

But teens know the world, and they haven’t grown scar tissue on their hearts yet, so they feel the reality we have blocked out.

As an adult of 66 years, I am sleepless and frightened for the kids, and ashamed that we’ve failed them.

Fifty degree heatwaves, unimaginable fires and floods, famines that decimate whole countries.

We had the wrong image for climate change.

Stranded polar bears don’t even touch it.

It looks, in our lifetimes like Syria, because first comes famine, and then comes civil war, and then comes barbarism.

The future is already here.

Warming doesn’t have an upper limit, it doesn’t stabilise - eventually, we burn.

Imagine being a teenager and knowing this, and seeing nothing happening.

Politicians who are doing too little will try and redirect the debate.

They will ask whether kids should be taking this role.

They will appeal to parents and ask why their children are not being well-behaved and quiescent like good children should be.

That isn’t what its about. Its about what we adults owe our children.

They are speaking the truth, and galvanising an adult society that is paralysed with inaction, rabbit-eyed before the juggernaut of fossil-fuelled death.

Be a part of the action.

Come and stand along side your children.

If you are a grandparent or caring adult, be there in the back, making sure they are safe, letting them know you are going to do more and more until all coal stays in the ground, all power is renewable, and the emissions start to go down.

Don’t let the kids face this on their own.

Steve Biddulph is the author of 10 Things Girls Need Most, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, Complete Secrets of Happy Children, and The New Manhood.