Scaring children witless

Eco-alarmists are feeding kids a daily diet of fear and doom.

Frank Furedi

‘Eco-anxiety’ has become the latest fashionable malaise. Apparently it is afflicting many children. That kids as young as four and five are feeling anxious about the climate is not surprising – after all, they are fed a diet of doomsday scenarios by the new eco-alarmists. Having effectively been given permission to feel hyper-anxious about the coming Armageddon, many youngsters have wholeheartedly embraced the role of the stressed-out victim of humanity’s eco-crimes.

As usual, the media and popular culture have been at the forefront of cultivating this narrative about eco-anxious children. In a new HBO series, Euphoria, an over-the-top anxious teenager embraces what we might call the eco-doom excuse. She says there is little point in kicking her drug habit because ‘the world’s coming to an end and I haven’t even graduated high school yet’.

Another HBO series, Big Little Lies, features a scene in which the daughter of one of the main characters has a panic attack in class after being relentlessly subjected to climate scare stories. There is a wonderful moment in which the teacher asks the eight-year-olds, ‘How many gallons of water does it take to make a single pound of sausage?’. As if participating in some kind of secular ritual, the chorus of children reply in unison: ‘A thousand!’

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it has become a sign of virtue for both children and adults to make a display of the disturbing symptoms of eco-anxiety. Such symptoms show that we are aware and concerned. In turn, the idea that climate-change concern is causing mental suffering adds up to further proof of the damage caused by climate change. In recent months there have been many reports about the mental-health consequences of climate change. For climate alarmists, the discovery of this alleged new malaise of eco-anxiety is a bonus. Linking climate catastrophism to the deterioration in children’s mental health allows them to boost the eco-fear narrative. It is a good example of the concept of joined-up scaremongering.

Joined-up scaremongering usually involves taking a pre-existing danger and adding the idea that it poses a unique threat to children. Why? Because if you mention the word ‘child’, people will listen. You can raise the moral stakes by claiming a child is at risk. People won’t just listen to you – they will endorse your demand that ‘something must be done’.

For instance, campaigners against poverty know that they are far more likely to gain sympathy for their cause if they draw attention to what is now called ‘child poverty’. It is as if socio-economic injustices are not compelling enough on their own terms – no, they have to be recast as things that harm children in particular.

Or take campaigners on Third World issues. They know that mentioning ‘child labour’ or ‘child soldiers’ or ‘starving children’ is far more likely to resonate with the public than general calls for economic assistance. As an acquaintance of mine who works in the charity sector put it to me: ‘Mention the word children, and the money rolls in.’

Children, therefore, become a kind of moral resource that can be used to promote policies and causes. Which is why, time and again, discussions about supposed catastrophic threats like climate change tend to focus on ‘our children’s future’.

It is bad enough that society has become so devoted to scaring children about the future survival of the planet. What is even more corrosive is the medicalisation of children’s concern about the future, the transformation of it into a mental-health problem. The number of children supposedly suffering from a climate-change-related mental-health problem is growing all the time, we’re told. Although reports on eco-anxiety rarely specify the percentage of children suffering from it, we are assured that the number is rising.

Claims of an epidemic of eco-anxiety are typically vague. ‘No stats are available on the prevalence of eco-anxiety, but some experts have noted an increase in public anxiety around climate change’, writes one journalist. One ‘expert’, Susan Clayton, who co-authored a report titled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, speculates: ‘We can say that a significant proportion of people are experiencing stress and worry about the potential impacts of climate change, and that the level of worry is almost certainly increasing.’ What is really increasing is the determination by experts and activists to construct this new mental disease of ‘eco-anxiety’.
Indeed eco-anxiety sounds suspiciously like any other form of anxiety. According to one description: ‘Symptoms of eco-anxiety include anxiety, depressed mood, insomnia, and feelings of loss, fear and helplessness. Symptoms in children may also include separation anxiety and somatisation – signs suggestive of physical illness but without a physical explanation. For example, stomach aches, headaches and extreme fatigue.’ Given that most of these symptoms are already associated with a variety of other mental-health conditions, it seems likely that normal anxiety is being rebranded as a psycho-eco-illness with the simple addition of the prefix ‘eco’.

Commentators acknowledge that eco-anxiety is more of a metaphor than a scientifically informed diagnosis. They usually say that it isn’t yet ‘an official diagnosis’ and then imply that it’s only a matter of time before it will be included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As one observer says, ‘Although not yet listed in the mental-health manual… a number of professional organisations such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the American Psychological Association and the Wellcome Trust have written about it’.

Apparently, it is not enough to scare children about their future and then medicalise their fears – scaremongers are now targeting parents, too. ‘Rising numbers of children are being treated for “eco-anxiety”, experts have said, as they warn parents against “terrifying” their youngsters with talk of climate catastrophe’, says the Daily Telegraph. Yet the project of terrifying children about the climate is actively promoted at all levels of society. Pinning the blame for ‘eco-anxiety’ on parents is a little dishonest.

This goes far beyond parents. We live in a world in which scaring children has become a form of ‘raising awareness’ about the alleged impending extinction of humanity. We live in a world in which environmental catastrophists use children to educate their supposedly irresponsible elders. We live in a world in which it is apparently okay for climate activists to hide behind a 16-year-old girl and to use her youthful and innocent image to foist political views on the public. Worst of all, we live in a world in which the language of mental illness is being used to ramp up the politics of fear. And we wonder why children feel scared.

Frank Furedi’s How Fear Works: the Culture of Fear in the 21st Century is published by Bloomsbury Press.

Picture by: Getty Images.

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Jerry Owen

21st September 2019 at 12:22 am

Delingpole on BB does a good piece .. as does the rather watchable ‘ Australian News ‘ on YT.
When a child is scared sh**less because he believes there are fires on the North Pole when it should be ‘just snow’ and the media promote this as ‘settled science ‘ we should all be more worried than we are about where this is all going .. Greta, the modern incarnation of the
historical Nazi / Stalinist poster girl .. We ain’t seen nothing yet !

cliff resnick

20th September 2019 at 9:19 pm

today we have an an internationally orchestrated childrens plea to save their dying world, mass hysteria looks pretty frieghtening to me.

Jerry Owen

21st September 2019 at 5:16 pm

Apparently there are fires burning in the Arctic … Now that really is scary !

Ven Oods

19th September 2019 at 8:25 pm

I don’t blame the kids who go on Greta marches and then get driven to school next day in a Chelsea tractor… That’s the fault of their feckless, unthinking parents (and the governments that keep diesel cheaper than petrol).

James Knight

19th September 2019 at 6:22 pm

Well Greta looks scared witless. Apparently she can “see” carbon dioxide.

I guess we can thank the scientific illiteracy and scaremongering in the school system.

David Moore

19th September 2019 at 2:18 pm

Are these people as concerned about the unborn I wonder?

Clive Wilkins

19th September 2019 at 1:25 pm

Eco-anxiety: Surely one for the Lib Dem’s Happiness Minister to look into?

Ed Turnbull

19th September 2019 at 12:17 pm

The last refuge of the scoundrel used to be patriotism (apparently). But nowadays “think of the children” fulfils that role. In fact it’s not the last but the *first* refuge of scoundrels everywhere.

Using children to lend a veneer of moral authority to a political project is a tactic we used to see employed by the likes of Mao, Stalin and Hitler. That the eco-loons have adopted this despicable tactic themselves clearly demonstrates they continue to operate on the principle of “it’s ok when *we* do it”.

Neil John

19th September 2019 at 11:30 am

“‘Rising numbers of children are being treated for “eco-anxiety”, experts have said, as they warn parents against “terrifying” their youngsters with talk of climate catastrophe’” Unsurprising, a parent discussing such things rationally or worse debunking climate myths the spurts have elevated into truths must never be allowed. & are prime examples of such fear stoking madness.

James Hillier

21st September 2019 at 9:05 am

Except for the most part it’s not parents doing it. But left-leaning psychologists shy away from identifying the true culprit: schools and teachers.

From the website of the National Education Union (the largest education union in the UK):

“Here are some ideas that you can use to organise action in your school: Organise a live link with protests taking place in city centres; Organise your own protest in the playground or at the school gates; we ask all our members to support the 30-minute work day campaign action on 20 September.”

The page goes on to praise Doncaster council for encouraging schools to set off fire alarms as a way of raising awareness.

This is not education. It’s indoctrination and scaremongering. And it’s coming from teachers and politicians, who are driving children to hysteria for political purposes. It’s absolutely shameful.

Claire D

21st September 2019 at 11:32 am

That is shocking, I had’nt realised it was so open and overt.

James Hillier

19th September 2019 at 11:05 am

Eco-anxiety? God, give me strength. To the extent which this phenomenon exists at all, it should be recognised for what it is: a form of propaganda specifically designed to abuse those subject to it in the hope that they can be manipulated and used to alter the legislative agenda.

Mark Lambert

19th September 2019 at 10:27 am

It is not normal behaviour for a 25 year-old woman to call a radio station on the subject of climate change, start crying and declare, “I am terrified”. But that happened the other week on LBC.

It’s no surprise that children are being terrified too. The “eco movement” is complicit in that, possibly school teachers, as well as the media. Certain programs love getting young kids on to declare they feel they might be the “last generation”.

As noted many times, it all has the smell of “religious cult”, and one of those factors is terrifying children that they will burn for eternity if they don’t follow. It is the same tactics, with a Messiah (Greta) and an end of world prophecy, and silencing heretics, thrown in.

James Hillier

19th September 2019 at 11:41 am

What would these people do in a crisis? How can this be happening, just three generations from the one which fought the Second World War? We appear to have spent the last forty years carefully inculcating mass neurosis and helplessness.


19th September 2019 at 11:50 am

Indeed. I’m a child of the days of Government announcements telling us all to hide under the stairs in the event of a nuclear strike…. frightening for a child. Fortunately there wasn’t the adult hysteria in my neck of the woods. Children take their cues from adults.

James Hillier

19th September 2019 at 12:35 pm

I begin to wonder if there are any functioning adults left.

Claire D

21st September 2019 at 8:50 am

That’s a good point that you make Mark about the religious quality to what is happening. It is all too easy to influence children, if adults have a mind to. Politics of any kind was seriously frowned on in schools up until the end of the 1990s. Tony Blair’s clarion call, ” Education, education, education .” might have had a more sinister undertone to it than people realised. Today, climate change, feminism and identity politics have all invaded the classroom. There were many teachers and headteachers involved in the protests yesterday. I wish they would concentrate on doing their job; educate and enable children to grow up thinking for themselves, but there’s not much chance of that at present.

Jerry Owen

19th September 2019 at 9:01 am

Eco anxiety to right minded people is a form of child cruelty.

Gareth Hart

19th September 2019 at 8:52 am

Only today we have children petitioning a fast food chain to ditch plastic toys, presumably in response to the saturation of media coverage around plastic waste. If they wish to be consistent in their principles, I know of one event which must be one of the biggest contributors of plastic toy waste. But if you suggest to children they should ditch Christmas they’ll be far more likely to ditch their ‘eco-anxiety’ and enviromentalism than forgo presents under the tree.

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