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Last month, young people around the world skipped school to join global climate strikes. Children of all ages marched, chanted and carried signs with slogans like, “You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change.”
Dark messages like that highlighted the worry many young people feel about climate change.
Climate change and related natural disasters can take a toll on mental health, according to a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association. That can include depression and anxiety.
Children may be one of the hardest-hit groups. According to a poll by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than seven in 10 teenagers and young adults in the United States say climate change will cause harm to their generation. That includes young people who identify as Democratics and Republicans.
In order to lighten that anxiety, experts say, parents should talk to their children.
To address these fears, find a calm moment to ask your child what they’ve seen or heard about climate change and how that makes them feel, said Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist in Washington and a founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance. She said parents should gently correct irrational fears but not downplay anxieties just to make children feel better. That could just make the child feel she can’t trust adults to be honest with them on this topic.
“Talk about the problem, then pivot to the solution,” Dr. Van Susteren said.
Once you’ve discussed your child’s climate fears, talk about people and organizations that are already working on large-scale climate solutions, said Maria Ojala, a psychologist at Orebro University in Sweden who studies young people and climate change.
If possible, talk about solutions in a personal context. Highlight steps you’ve already taken as a family or as individuals to reduce your carbon footprints and brainstorm new ideas together. Taking action can be an empowering antidote to fear, Dr. Van Susteren said. Encourage your child to take action with her peers as well, like joining a group at school or volunteering with a local organization. Collective action has mental health benefits, according to Dr. Ojala. “We are social beings and it’s very good for our well-being to work together with others and be part of a group,” she said.
You probably won’t get rid of your child’s fears altogether, and that’s O.K., Dr. Ojala said. The goal is to help your child cope with her fears in a constructive way to avoid hopelessness.
Finally, think about your own personal choices and lead by example, Dr. Van Susteren said. Your children are probably watching.
The story behind the salt prints in our ghost forests story
Hello! I’m the art director for the NYT climate team, so you probably won’t have seen my name here before. It’s mostly a behind-the-scenes job. But, we thought you’d be interested the back story on the piece about ghost forests we published this week — not only because the topic is important, but also because the presentation was unusual.
The gist of the story, reported by Moises Velasquez-Manoff and photographed by Gabriella Demczuk, is that rising seas are creating huge stands of dead trees, sometimes surprisingly far from the sea. It’s happening in lots of places, but we focused on the Eastern Seaboard.
We’ve used drones, wide lenses and other digital flourishes to cover forests in the past — like in our story last year on cedar trees dying in Lebanon. This time we thought we’d do something different and get close to the roots of these things dying en masse.
Gabriella and Moises trekked out to the sites in the thick of an August heat wave, trudging through thick mud and marsh to find these ghost forests. “Sweating under a black sheet,” she said, “I photographed the trees using a 4×5 large format camera to capture the subtle hues and exquisite details that only film can produce.”
And, because she was photographing with film, we brainstormed ways to experiment with printmaking. She had the idea to collect salt water from each location and use it as a wash to sensitize photo paper to make salt prints. It’s a very early photo technique from the 19th-century that gives a sort of sepia tone to the final product.
In Gabriella’s words: “I welcomed discoloration, fog, and irregularities that came with using different concentrations of salt levels in the water to create a visual metaphor for how salt is slowly killing these coastal forests, stripping the bark and bleaching its colors.”
Maybe you loved it, maybe you hated it. But we hope that it’s something you haven’t seen before, and something that sticks with you. As always, let us know what you think of the story.