Children and Climate Activism: Providing Support for Your Activist Child

shutterstock_11256511Along our travels across the country and around the world, we have the pleasure and honor of meeting many incredible Climate Mamas and Papas who inspire us and give us hope as they stand up, speak out and lead the way – carving out a future that overflows with hope for our children. These parents recognize the overwhelming needs, the urgency of the crisis, and the fact that our children’s future, without our help – and we know even with it – remains precarious and threatened because of our changing climate. They also recognize that we do have the power to slow down what is happening, to give ourselves and our children a fighting chance, but that we must move urgently; a fact recognized by 195 countries this past December in Paris at the UN Climate Conference.

We want to introduce you to one of these special parents, Arizona Climate Mama, Kathy Mohr-Almeida. Instead of being the outspoken one (although she herself does so much) – Kathy is supporting and helping her daughter take center stage. Early on, Kathy recognized that her young daughter Anna Rose had some very special gifts, including: empathy, an intuitive caring and love for the planet, and a strong desire to lead through activism. Kathy has helped to foster Anna’s activism, ensuring that her daughter’s voice, her spirit and her dedication is seen, heard and valued. We are thrilled to share with you Kathy’s advice, thoughtfulness and guidance. What does it takes to raise a climate activist child?

Stay tuned for more articles by Kathy on ClimateMama in the coming months.

Kathy and Anna Rose, Used with Permission

Kathy and Anna Rose, Used with Permission

Advice on Raising a young Climate Activist
By Kathy Mohr-Almeida, PhD

I openly admit that I am a nerdy Brainiac. I possess a female mind, which physiologically makes me a thinking ninja. My corpus callosum allows me to both think and feel simultaneously, an absolute advantage my male colleagues do not possess. I am very well educated, both formally and informally, meaning I know how to think. It is natural outcome of my liberal arts education that I would choose social service as a professional path, first as a K – 6 English as Second Language Teacher, and later as psychotherapist, professor, and traditional healer.

All of these roles are very nice and interesting. However, my most important role in life is being Anna’s Mom. Like most mothers, I am driven to protect my child at all costs. This protective drive has come to include safeguarding Anna’s future, which encompasses her having a viable environment in which to live.
This is why I find myself parenting a youth climate crisis leader. We are at a moment in human history when there is no other choice but to fight for our children’s futures. This is a cold, hard fact, something I wish I could remain blissfully ignorant about. Hiding from the facts is tantamount to betraying my child, and I find myself in the uncharted parenting territory of youth climate crisis activism. Fortunately, I can think my way through these sometimes murky waters, find the hope, and take action.

What are my motivations behind my parenting choices related to my adolescent daughter’s climate crisis activism?
My 13 year old daughter, Anna Rose, is a climate crisis “kick-activist.” Anna routinely makes considerable, concerted efforts to abate the climate crisis. I live with constant apprehension that my daughter isn’t emotionally and psychologically equipped to deal with an endless parade of interpersonal and political ugly that comes with political territory. However, I have determined that Anna’s activism is in her best interests because she is the direct beneficiary of her efforts.

How do I ensure Anna’s interests, rather than mine, are what she pursues?
I sat with this question for months, in the meantime following through and providing logistical support for actions Anna stated she wanted to participate in. Yes, I brought the opportunities to Anna’s attention. That’s what good parents do – they provide exposure to possibility and they inspire hope. Bringing the choice to Anna’s attention also exposed her to the experience of equality and respect. Anna can and often does say “no,” and I respect her choice, like it or not.

Anna's clean skies campaign: used with permission

Anna’s clean skies campaign: used with permission

What are the benefits of activism for my daughter?
My daughter is learning and gaining experience each time she participates in a demonstration, speaks publically, or otherwise puts herself out there. Anna knows what equality feels like because she is an agent of social change. She already is a leader, and she is helping mitigate the climate crisis. She is gaining confidence, self-respect, and learning to navigate intellectual material and social dynamics. She is pushing the envelope around what young people can accomplish. Pretty impressive stuff by anyone’s measure.

What are some potential pitfalls of youth activism?
I don’t believe anyone can evade what they can’t see. However, asking deeply reflective questions about my motivations and what is shaping the behaviors of others usually proves prophylactic For example, I am aware that a part of Anna’s effectiveness is her young age. Anna’s activism won’t always be a novelty, and the window of attention because of her age will diminish. My husband and I encourage Anna to actively explore interdisciplinary fields so that she has many doors to walk through, if and when her activism becomes less central in her life.

Perhaps the better question is how much more confident will Anna be at 18 compared to her peers who spent their adolescence in other ways? Whatever Anna choses to explore as her professional path, she will be better equipped in that field because she will have more diverse life experiences than many of her peers.

Developmentally, what age is best for a young person to start activism?
In my experience, when Anna leads the way, she isn’t pushing limits she isn’t ready for. If your child is 6 and is worried about the polar bears, talk about it and help your child devise an intervention, no matter how small and seemingly impotent, because you never know where this small step will lead your child. Anna started her activism, unbeknownst to me, in 2nd grade by making jewelry out of trash and selling it to the parents at her school. She made 80 dollars and immediately sent it to one of her pet causes. And guess what got her interested in the first place? Michael Jackson’s Earth Song video. You never know what will inspire your child.

How much is too much?
Sometimes I put accomplishable challenges before Anna, just like I do in other areas of her life. For example, last weekend I took her to a rock climbing facility and tried not to imagine what would happen if her safety harness broke. She expressed interest in this rock climbing thing, not me. It made me nervous to see her 30 feet off the ground, clinging to a wall, just like I always feel nervous when Anna speaks publically. The biggest crowd Anna has addressed was about 1000 people plus media. I wouldn’t want to do that – heck, I get nervous in front of a class of 10 adult learners.

Fear is a symptom of personal growth. Anna seems to experience fear as excitement. Embrace fear, reframe it as excitement, and carry on secure in the knowledge that you are expanding the limits of social equality and that that is a very, very good deed.

How do I monitor my child’s well-being?
Honesty and mutual respect are hallmarks of great parenting (and friendship). Talk with your child or children with sincere interest in their perspectives, and learn while you listen. While I can’t speak for Anna, I feel that Anna and I are very close. She trusts me to coach her through her intellectual, social and spiritual challenges. We talk a lot. I respect our differences and her choices. Sometimes that is tough to do. If I don’t agree, I will respect Anna’s choice. She understands my point of view, and I tell her that it is her life and she will be responsible for abating or enjoying what she creates in her world. You do not have all the answers. You just don’t.
My guiding principle is that I play the “NO!” parent card only in situations where well-being, life and limb are threatened. How you behave when your child’s opinions and choices diverge from yours is testimony to your commitment of respect for your child.

How do I start supporting my child’s activism goals?
Developing youth leadership as a parent requires that you provide logistical support and model ethical behavior in your dealings with others. It also involves understanding that youth leaders are good for society because they are the best equipped amongst humanity to make choices for the collective best interest. They can make these kinds of decisions because young people are fairly unencumbered by immediate pressures of obligation and responsibility. And, finally, it means relinquishing power to young people.

Photo credit: Energy Action Coalition

Photo credit: Energy Action Coalition

What now?
It appears that the climate crisis, or at least catastrophic weather events, has become a part of our cultural narrative. I saw an advertisement for a SUV just yesterday that is narrated by a wise, female voice. The car is driven by an affluent mother, as evidenced by her expensive, athletic clothing, and her well-equipped vehicle. Don’t worry, you own a (brand of car), you will survive the climate crisis. Hurray! We have overcome the barrier of cultural denial about the climate crisis. Now what?

My supporting role in Anna’s work feels like a very, very long unpaid internship. However, there are massive intrinsic rewards attached to helping stabilize the climate for my daughter and her children, and for your kid. I want thousands of leaders like Anna in the world – this is what has become necessary in the climate crisis. One climate organization touts “We Need Everyone, Everywhere.” Well said. We need to collectively figure out how to coach and support a thousand other youth leaders-in-waiting, keep their egos in check, develop strategies for actions, and we need to be able to keep our lights on while doing it.

Kathy Mohr-Almeida a child and family phsychotherapist, an author, educator and journalist.

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