By Tim Lydon
Climate-related disasters are on the rise, and carbon emissions are soaring. Parents today face the unprecedented challenge of raising children somehow prepared for a planetary emergency that may last their lifetimes. Few guidebooks are on the shelves for this one, yet, but experts do have advice. And in a bit of happy news, it includes strategies already widely recognized as good for kids.
First, consider that a child born today enters a world growing progressively hotter, where recent weather extremes have displaced tens of millions of people. Scientists say displacement may swell into the hundreds of millions in the years ahead, as the rapid melting of glaciers now underway drives sea levels upward. The resulting migrations will likely trigger conflict, hunger, and political instability. As we already see in the children pressed against the U.S.-Mexico border, many of them fleeing drought in Central America, migrations may also lead to hardened borders and xenophobic or racist impulses. All this causes military analysts to call climate change a "threat multiplier" that can exacerbate existing social problems.
Parents today must brace kids for both the direct physical impacts of climate change and the humanitarian crises they will trigger, which may be worsened by human behaviors. Whether kids experience the events personally or in the context of world news, experts say kids will need strong foundations in resilience, positive thinking, compassion, and other skills to maintain mental health and inform their responses.
"It's a lot for parents to think about," said Tracey Wiese, an advanced nurse practitioner who specializes in family practice and psychiatric mental health in Alaska. As warming brings transformative change to Alaska, upending landscapes, cultural norms, and nutritional resources, Wiese sees growing anxiety among parents.
"I hear about it every week now," she said from her office in Anchorage. "Parents are worried about existential stuff, like clean water, a livable planet for their kids, even catastrophic environmental events."
Wiese said parents can use a range of strategies to help children, but that kids first require a supportive relationship with one or more caregivers.
"That connection is vital for helping children develop skills such as resilience," she said.
PoPositive Stress and Strong Support Networks
Wiese defines resilience as the ability to manage stress and adapt to change. Her words are backed by a 2017 American Psychological Association report on the mental health impacts of climate change, which also emphasizes strong caregiver support and the value of resilience. For parents, the report's authors recommend cultivating belief in a child's own resilience, fostering optimism, and teaching children to control emotional responses to change. These are common tenets of modern parenting the report said are made especially important by climate change.
Psychologists also describe the value of "positive stress," which may include public speaking, making new friends, and other experiences that can briefly increase heart rates but that help wire young minds to adapt to change. Parents who provide supportive coaching through these normal life experiences help kids develop resilience.
"Parents also need to model positive and appropriate responses to stress," Wiese said.
Like many things, what happens earliest in life matters most, but teens and even adults can still improve resilience. The APA offers an online guide with age-appropriate strategies for parents.
In contrast, stress related to poverty, malnutrition, violence, or abuse can weaken a child's resilience, acting as "threat multipliers" of their own for children born into the climate change era. In such cases, climate can compound existing stress, potentially increasing odds for substance abuse, anxiety, or depression, according to the authors of the APA report.
Especially where caregiver support is lacking, coaches, teachers, and other mentors can help young people manage these negative stressors. It's a reminder that entire communities, not just parents, will have a hand in raising climate-resilient children.
That community focus is an important factor according to Susan Clayton, a psychologist at Wooster College in Ohio and co-editor of Psychology and Climate Change: Human Perceptions, Impacts, and Responses, which summarizes psychological research tied to climate change.
"Strong social support networks give children a better foundation in resilience," Clayton said. She lists teachers, clubs, and faith communities as good examples of social networks that become "sources of meaning" for kids.
Connnection to the Outdoors
Connecting youths to the outdoors is also important when it comes to climate change. Research shows time outdoors, especially at an early age, can reduce childhood stress and anxiety, while strengthening confidence, imagination, and physical health — all characteristics that will help tomorrow's adults adapt to a changing world.
"Nature-based education [and] therapy are real sources of strength and resilience for young people," Clayton said.
But not everyone grows up with access to the outdoors, and both climate change and population growth are driving greater movement to urban areas worldwide. It means more kids live in developed areas with limited time in nature.
Fortunately, concern over how much time kids spend hitched to phones and computers has already sparked a revival in nature-based education. Parents and teachers today can access a growing network of tested programs. Some, such as Project Learning Tree and the National Environmental Education Foundation, are active across the country, but an expanding galaxy of others function at the local level. At the movement's cutting edge is a growing number of outdoor-focused preschools and kindergartens that provide formative experiences in natural settings, including within urban areas.
Proponents say nature-based education is good for older kids, too, and can spark interest in science and other fields that will be crucial in the decades ahead, as people engineer solutions to climate-related challenges. Such programs may steer teens toward promising careers. But in the short term, learning about science and nature can instill optimism in the face of discouraging climate news.
Discuss and Model Solutions
But what about day-to-day actions in the home? Experts agree that discussing climate change and modeling behaviors that reflect climate solutions are important, too. Discussions need to be age-appropriate to protect young children from unnecessary stress and anxiety. But exhibiting climate-positive behaviors such as energy conservation and avoiding single-use plastics carries value at all ages. According to Wiese, it shows kids that parents are engaged in trying to better the world, and it fosters resilience by channeling energy toward tangible action.
Mary DeMocker, author of The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution, agrees. As the mother of two young adults, DeMocker spent more than two decades raising kids with climate change in mind, and she believes in empowering young people to create solutions.
"Anything that gives kids a sense of agency is important," she said. "Maybe they help put together the family's emergency plan or evacuation kit. For older kids, it might mean writing letters to Congress."
DeMocker's book contains 100 short, action-oriented chapters with ideas on greener lifestyles, getting kids outdoors, and promoting solutions to the climate crisis. She is attentive to the science of climate change and the urgent need for a swift transition to clean energy. That drives her belief that children growing up today must feel empowered to create change. In addition to strong support networks, time outdoors, and positive thinking habits, she said, empowerment comes from solid foundations in both civics and climate science.
"I encourage parents to push for climate literacy in schools," she said. "Climate change is the biggest thing that's going to affect their children's future. Kids need to know the science and causes but also the solutions. And it needs to be taught free from the constraints of political interests."
DeMocker said young people should not be told "what to think about climate, but how to think about it." She believes teaching kids to think critically about the issue, including in geopolitical terms, helps them avoid despair and instead empowers them to create change. A grounding in civics and democracy then informs kids how change can occur.
Compassion is also a theme in DeMocker's work. She said it's an important emotional response for parents to exercise while listening to a child's fears about climate change, which may include concerns about wildlife, natural disasters, or the well-being of friends, family, and even pets.
In Alaska, Wiese also sees the importance of compassion. She said parents foster compassion when they provide a safe emotional place for kids to express their feelings and where feelings are respected. For younger children, she also sees value in compassion-based play.
Exercising compassion models behaviors young people will need in the future, too, as they emerge as adults into a world undergoing significant physical and societal change. Global experts predict low- and middle-income people — and especially children — will continue feeling the brunt of weather extremes, food shortages, and other climate-related events. Tomorrow's adults will need to know the value of compassion to promote responses that alleviate suffering, foster social justice, and decarbonize the economy. That provides a check against intolerance, nationalism, and other negative reactions that can compound suffering and civil unrest. Practicing compassion also carries mental health benefits that can help tomorrow's adults weather the climate disruption they will experience.
Like climate change itself, the prospect of raising children on a warming planet is daunting. When it becomes overwhelming, Wiese said, parents should focus on what they can control: Practice self-care. Provide kids with safety and support. Teach resilience and compassion. And model planet-healthy choices that orient children away from anxiety and toward solutions.
Tim Lydon has worked on public lands issues for many years and is a founding member of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation. His writing has appeared in Hakai Magazine, The Revelator, The Hill, Terrain.org, and elsewhere.
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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