We must communicate powerfully that we are committed to being alongside young people to fight for their future

Never has there been a generation of young people who have had to contend with messages that the very survivability of humans as a species could be at risk.

Stephen Finlayson is Penumbra’s Head of Innovation and Improvement

COP26 of course starts on Sunday and with it the opportunity to step back from the brink of the climate disaster.  YouthLink Scotland are leading the thinking of how we support young people to engage in this effectively.  It is of course a crisis on many levels, environmental, economic and psychological.  Young people have to look to the future with an existential threat that is entirely unprecedented – and that inevitably has a real toll on their mental wellbeing.  I’m a hopeful person, and I firmly believe there is hope. At Penumbra, we’re committed to supporting young people to manage their mental health in the midst of this crisis.  I wrote an article for this YouthLink magazine and my belief is there are three core approaches we need to engage with young people in the face of the climate emergency:

1. To validate their experience. We must not diminish the reality or provide false comfort. We need to look young people in the eye and acknowledge that this is real.

2. Be allies, whether as individuals in our own relationships with young people, as people working with young people directly or as representatives in our organisations.

We must communicate powerfully that we are committed to being alongside young people to fight for their future, not blindly leaving it to them as Greta Thunberg rightly rages against.

3. Help young people to feel in control. In terms of young people’s mental wellbeing, this may be the most critical, and the most challenging factor. There are few things more important to wellbeing than a feeling of agency and control over your life. The Climate Emergency poses an unprecedented challenge to the ability to feel in control. The nature of the issues is so globally complex that feeling a sense of agency can be daunting. We need to support young people to find ways that they can meaningfully feel they have agency while tolerating the fact that the bigger picture is out of any one person’s control.

If we can do this, and support the huge energy among young people, then we do indeed have the potential to create
a hopeful future for all of us.

You can check out Stephen’s full article in Link Magazine COP26 special

Whilst you’re here, download Responding to Change; our guide designed to support the mental wellbeing of young people during times of change.