CLIMATE-striker Charlotte Muller-Stuart recalls that when she first learned about the IPCC 1.5 Degrees report, what she was most stressed about was her own future.

“I was thinking way more about humans rather than nature. Only recently have I been more connected with the environment. I’ve realised that this is way bigger than just the humans. The fact that nature is being exploited and destroyed right now – that’s the bit that stresses me out most.”

Stress is just one of the feelings she and other young people experience around climate change. Friday’s mass climate strike in the September sunshine, a riot of colour and noise, looked on so many levels like a flowering of positivity. But the words used by the young people out that day do not come from the spectrum of joy.

They were, naturally given the scale of the issue, “angry”, “terrified”, “scared”, “worried”. In the same week, the United Nations Children’s Fund warned that the biggest emerging threats to children globally, are “the worsening climate crisis, a decline in mental health and online misinformation”.

What do we do with the fact that this generation, already troubled in terms of mental health, is now having to process chilling facts about the future of our planet and humanity’s role? How do those of us who are parents, or adults connected to children, work through this with our youngsters, who are now coming across this information at sometimes a very young age?

As Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist working with the University of Bath and the Climate Psychology Alliance, points out, adults too are having many “complicated feelings around the climate emergency”. “But they’re also thinking, how can I cope with my children’s feelings? How can I support my grandchildren?”

Sometimes these feelings are described as eco-anxiety, a current buzzword, as Hickman observes, an inadequate descriptor for the full range of emotions around climate crisis.

“Anxiety is the gateway in, but then people go through a whole process of emotions – depression, despair, frustration, among young people, that adults aren’t doing something, and hopelessness, and blaming.”

Scottish climate-strikers will frequently mention eco-anxiety. One, 15-year-old Dylan Hamilton, says there are times when he has felt “really down”. “I’ve never felt like giving up. But I struggle a lot because I also have chronic fatigue, so it makes everything ten times more difficult. I have to constantly keep up and be on top of my learning. That can be really stressful and I’ve had a few burn outs, but I never stop striking.”

Dylan first started to question how we were behaving around the environment when he was eight. “I was in the eco committee at school,” he recalls, “but I got really fed up because it felt like all we were doing was taking out the bins. I felt if it is as serious as you’re telling me then we should be doing more than just taking out the bins.” That, he says, triggered a mental state of “hopelessness” for a while.

However, he says, striking has helped hugely. “I feel like I’m doing enough, which has really helped my mental state. We’re actually a really supportive group because we all get each other’s problems and we’ve got loads of people we can turn to if it is stressing us out.”

But these youth activists are not the only young people to have been impacted our current wave of climate crisis stories. All children are. Few can have escaped hearing the news that the earth is warming, the ice caps melting, the polar bears threatened, and plastic is everywhere.

In this context how we talk to our children about it becomes crucial. Over the past year, it has become a question for me. How much do I share, as I cover climate related issues, of both the information and my own rollercoaster feelings, with my sons aged 10 and 12?

Hickman believes that talking is the most important thing we need to do with our children. She recalls how six months ago she interviewed an eight-year-old in a bid to find out how might be best to talk to youngsters. She said to her, “Okay Sophia, I want to talk to you about some scary things – climate change – but I want to find a way to do that that doesn’t terrify and overwhelm you. What would you suggest we do?”

Sophia’s reply, she says, is something she often quotes. She said: “The thing is, it is difficult, but you must tell me the truth. And if you don’t tell me the truth you’re lying to me – and I’m not a baby.”

“I loved the way she put that,” says Hickman. “She’s spot on. We mustn’t treat them like they’re babies. They do need to be prepared for the realities of these things. But a parent needs to be able to process their own feelings a little bit to talk to the child. They need to have taken a little bit of time and thought, well how do I feel? How upset am I? What’s getting in the way of me talking to my child? I’ve talked to a few children about this and they said if you don’t talk to us, we feel abandoned.”

In 2018, The Mental Health Foundation published a poll of parents exploring how, in an era of 24-hour news and social media, they felt their children were responding to larger world events and if they were able to adequately discuss the issues with their children. Around a third of parents said their children were anxious around global warming and climate change.

Off the back of their poll, they published some advice, which, they suggest, might be relevant to parents concerned about how they handle their children’s exposure to climate crisis news. “The advice that we’ve developed,” says Julie Cameron, head of programmes at The Mental Health Foundation Scotland, “is that trying to have a news black-out and shield your children isn’t helpful. Likewise, of course, neither is extreme over-exposure.”

Cameron suggests taking time to watch the news with your child, particularly an age-appropriate show like Newsround, and making sure that there is plenty of opportunity for conversation following it. “It’s taking the time to explore this with them. It’s okay to acknowledge that this is quite scary and tricky stuff and that none of us have complete control over it. You also need to reassure them that it’s okay and in their day-to-day life they are safe.” Amongst their advice too is that it’s good for adult mental health to get “civically involved”. “This is probably applicable to children too. We say become civically active, become engaged.”

That activism can be good for mental health is something that Hickman echoes. It’s also a frequent reflection from those young people who are deeply involved in the climate strike. “Striking helps me deal with it,” says Muller-Stuart. “It’s definitely empowering. Because otherwise you can feel so helpless – like you’re the only one. You go to a global strike where there are thousands of other people and it’s more empowering and it makes you think it’s not just you. There’s a lot more hope. ”

Another emotion that climate strikers frequently express is anger – often at the older generations. As John Thorne, secretary for Climate Psychology Alliance Scotland notes, “If you’re 12, you’ve done very little to cause this issue, and you’ve got a total right to be angry about it and that’s a good thing. Because being angry and upset means we do something.”

But it would be wrong to paint a picture of a modern world divided into adults who are in denial and young people who are the truth speakers and sufferers of eco anxiety. It’s not quite like that. Many adults in the environmental and other radical movements, or working in renewables, or researching related science, have been trying to address this issue for a very long time. Adults get despair too – and grief, and another more hampering emotion, guilt.

Another problem, Hickman says, parents find, in dealing with their children’s climate-related distress, is that there is nothing in their personal histories to relate the current crisis to. “If your child comes home upset because of bullying, as a parent you can call on your own experience of dealing with those problems. But we haven’t got our own history of dealing with this.”

Of course, all of us will recall some global or national threat from our own childhood: the nuclear threat, HIV/Aids. Hickman believes this is not quite the same. “What makes this subtly different is the fact that we’re all culpable for this, even through the small decisions we make. There is also a great deal of uncertainty attached to it. It may be man-made, but it’s not in our control – we don’t know when the tipping points will be. That makes us utterly vulnerable and hugely aware of our dependency on our environment.”

These are things I hear echoed by many young people. They are acutely aware of their own impacts, yet at the same time of their smallness in relation to the problem. “It’s so big,” says Charlotte Muller-Stuart, “and there’s so much. It’s also hard to switch off from. You can’t really brush it off. Everything that you do, every single day, is somehow affecting the environment in some way.”

We are lucky, in this country, to be, as yet, relatively little impacted by climate change. This makes it easier to comfort our children, tell them they are currently safe. That’s not the case for all children. Hickman has also interviewed children in the Maldives, who are on the frontline of sea-level rises. “The children there,” she observes, “are saying it’s happening now. They said to me, ‘People in Iceland had a funeral for a glacier, we watched it online – where’s our funeral? Who is going to care about us?’”