Research Summary

From climate change victims to climate change actors: The role of eco-parenting in building mitigation and adaptation capacities in children

Eco-parenting can promote climate resiliency in children

The Journal of Environmental Education

Children are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, yet have great capacity to be environmental change agents. This capacity is rooted in the skills developed during early childhood when children begin learning how to meet their own needs. Previous research indicates that problem-solving skills and abilities are important to address climate change, but little research exists on the specific role of parents in instilling skills of climate change mitigation and adaptation within the child. Parents can have a profound influence on the environmental and moral views of their children, and may inspire their children to become climate change actors. This means that from a young age, children begin to understand how they can mitigate and adapt their behaviors to be pro-environmental. This study is a literature review and involved the review and analysis of studies related to eco-parenting, child development, climate change, and the role of parents in child development. These studies focused on young people (infancy to 24 years of age). This article explored parenting styles and techniques that can encourage their children to become climate change actors, rather than victims of climate change.

“Eco-parenting” involves supporting, educating, and guiding a child in developing respect and reverence for ecological systems. In the eco-parenting framework, the role of the parent is to help children question, analyze, and problem-solve in the face of global environmental issues. Additionally, eco-parents are responsible for teaching their child that there is an inseparable bond between people and the Earth. Eco-parenting involves modeling climate change resilient behavior, teaching climate resilience skills, and living an “eco-friendly” life. Studies have shown that the authoritative model of parenting is best suited for eco-parenting and develop climate resiliency in children. Authoritative parenting is a style in which parents encourage high maturity, control of emotions, and problem-solving from their children, while also allowing for leeway and negotiation between parent and child. Studies suggest this parenting approach encourages problem solving skills and independence for the child.

Based on their review of the literature, the researchers recommend a three-pronged approach to eco-parenting: 1) modeling behavior, 2) instilling ecological values, and 3) encouraging adaptive actions and attitudes in the child. Researchers noted the importance of beginning such practices in infancy and continuing them throughout childhood, while also demonstrating an authoritative parenting approach.

A major limitation of this literature review is the lack of existing research focusing on eco-parenting and how it can influence the behaviors and actions of children, relating to climate change. Additionally, the authors believe a major limitation of current research is the limited understanding of the relationship between current environmental education and climate change education. The authors believe that understanding the relation between these two curricula will allow practitioners to understand whether or not these two topics are complimenting one another or contradicting one another.

For each of the prongs of eco-parenting, the study offered specific recommendations. For modeling behavior, the authors recommend four actions:
1) Leaving nature objects where they are when walking or playing in nature, thereby minimizing impact.
2) Planting and tending to trees, plants, and other organisms to model respect for nature.
3) Adopting sustainable practices at home, such as recycling, using bikes and alternative transportation, and conserving energy.
4) Modeling behavior of engaging with local people and respecting others.

To instill ecological values, researchers suggest discussing the importance of clean air and clean water for humans and for ecosystems, as well as encouraging nature play and appropriate and respectful interaction with wildlife. Lastly, to encourage adaptive actions and attitudes, parents can engage in environmental advocacy. The researchers also encourage parents to practice responding to climate disasters with their children, so that they become actors in overcoming the disaster rather than victims.

The Bottom Line

Using a literature review, researchers concluded that eco-parenting can help young people become climate actors. The researchers encourage parents to take advantage of their unique role and influence and choose to actively model pro-environmental behavior, instill beliefs, and provide opportunities to respond to climate change. Further, researchers recommend beginning eco-parenting in infancy to provide consistency as the child grows cognitively and ethically.