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Do you remember it as a kid - ABC TV's Behind the News (BtN)? The program has been producing children's news stories for more than 30 years and reaches about 500,000 children weekly.
In late 2006, BtN asked 2,000 Australian children: "What do you worry about?" Equal first on a list of 12 concerns was "the environment".
The other top worry was their parents and friends dying or getting sick. These two concerns surmounted others such as appearance, school, job prospects and pets.
"Something bad might happen in the future if people don't stop polluting and making it hotter," said, Liam, 10, from Sydney.
Elijah, 8, from Wollongong was more concerned about the animals: "We might all burn up one day. And the penguins and polar bears won't have anywhere to live."
But is it really a surprise that kids are so worried about the environment when they see so many news stories on the subject?
"We have definitely done more climate change and environmental stories over the past few years because it's become a regular news issue," says BtN executive producer, Robert Clark.
While BtN tailors its coverage to children, other sources don't have the same filters. According to Susie Burke, a senior research officer for the Australian Psychological Society (APS), standard television news reports of catastrophic events can have a lasting impact on kids.
"Visual images from television stay with children much longer than radio or print media," says Burke.
That's why it's a good idea, she says, to switch off the news if young children are present or talk them through the things they see.
Psychologist Joseph Reser of Griffith University in Brisbane believes that an overload of frightening images and information can undermine children's naturally confident and optimistic attitude.
"Kids need to be concerned about matters like climate change," says Reser. But like adults, if they "become too anxious about anything [they] lose the power to act".
Doing is learning
Children are also exposed to worrying information about the natural world through influential sources such as school lessons, peer groups and parents.
To counteract this, Burke released a tip sheet through the APS called "Talking with children about the environment".
The APS encourages parents to take an active role in preventing anxieties in their kids and suggests practical ways to help them develop a love for the natural world. These range from taking family holidays in nature or encouraging kids to get involved in the gardening, to letting them choose an environmental group to donate to.
According to the APS, younger children can't easily express complex emotions, so parents can look for signs of anxiety in their play, spontaneous conversations or drawings.
Younger children also like to mimic adult behaviour, so they'll follow their parents' lead in recycling, digging in the garden, or taking out the compost.
Older children prefer independent tasks, such as writing letters to the local paper about their environmental concerns, reading informative books or researching topics online.
Adolescents require lots of information and should be encouraged to openly discuss their thoughts about the environment.
"We need to frame environmental problems to children in ways that give them hope," says Burke. "Children should be reassured that millions of people worldwide are working together to solve environmental problems, and the planet can be protected."
In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the human population will be living in urban areas. For children, the risk is that they'll be less exposed to the natural world and they might bond to a world of 'things' rather than the natural environment. So get your hands dirty with some of the ideas below!
- Picnic at your local park
- Grow vegetables or flowers on the windowsill
- Take a family holiday in the snow or bush
- Build an ant farm
- Watch tadpoles or caterpillars grow and change
- Attend tree planting days
- Play games such as making daisy chains, floating bark boats or growing beans up tepee poles to make a green cubbyhouse
- Buy a rain gauge and plot monthly rainfall on a chart
- Pursue outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, horse riding, canoeing, rock climbing or swimming