Sensitive Ten-Year-Old Depressed about Climate Change

Hi Peak Shrink,

After years of reading, processing, talking, thinking, feeling….about peak oil, global climate change, extinction, overpopulation, overshoot (which seems to cover it all), I thought I was in a pretty good spot. I was accepting the good with the bad, preparing in my meager ways, talking about it to anyone interested and mostly, again able to sleep at night.

Big drum crash.

My 10 year old. He’s starting the process, less healthily, and I living through it again with him. It started last spring when he wrote a book report on Thor Heyerdahl and read Thor’s warning about the state of the world. Thor had made ocean trips in his little Kon Tiki in the 40’s and redid them in the 70’s. The difference in the amount of pollution, trash, dead animals….astonished him and he wrote about how the oceans wouldn’t be able to survive such abuse. He then said something on PBS about habitat destruction and apes going extinct, then he learned about g.c.c. in school.

He’s anxious and saddened. He’s crying and is sometimes inconsolable. He said that it didn’t matter what happened to him, it was the planet he was worried about. Grandma’s little talk about “how what happens here on earth doesn’t matter, it’s what happens when we go to heaven,” really scared him. Now he thinks all Christians are crazy.

He’s a smart little boy and I am working on getting him into counseling but don’t want a counselor to downplay his fears. He has voiced that he fears the monkeys will be all gone before he can grow up and save them. I think it would be a mistake for him to hear that his concerns aren’t real or aren’t realistic. I live in that world, where some co-workers couldn’t care less about the environment and think it’s all nonsense to be concerned. I was recently told that peak oil can’t be true because “she never saw anything about it on t.v. and she watches a lot of t.v.” I don’t think that my 10 year needs to get into those differences yet.

What do I ask the therapist about possible treatments that could avoid some problems for him? Can I ask about her religion? Can I ask her how she gets her information? Can I ask her not to diminish his fears, but instead to try to help him cope with them?

I use to see my upcoming role as food provider, heat provider…..I now see that sanity might be a big call for the coming years. I need to keep myself mentally healthy so that I can help my children cope with their grief, sadness and fears. Scary times for us means scary times for them, no matter how well we think we are protecting them.

I’d love to hear thoughts.

Worried Mom of a Sensitive Child


Dear W.M.S.C,

Such a touching and thoughtful email, W.M.S.C. Thank you for writing.

We can look at your son from many perspectives, but perhaps the
developmental perspective is a good place to start. At ten, he’s acutely aware of the moral issues of right and wrong, and this age tends
to dwell on the wrong. They have a strong sense of justice and can have
a strict moral code. Your son has directed these developmental
challenges toward the Earth, and, being a sensitive kid, he feels very
deeply about it, as do you. You clearly have to intervene if his fears
are interfering with his eating, sleeping, schoolwork, socializing,
athletics, or friendship networks. As his parent, I would support the
feelings of injustice he’s articulating, and the depth of his capacity
to feel things as deeply as he does. And, I would want to expose him to
the types of social action that’s happening around the world to heal and
repair it. Greenpeace USA has some inspiring (and some are
silly/serious) videos about the work they are doing to stop the sales of
red list fish. is a great site. I’m sure you are letting him
know that people are trying to do things, so that he can take the time
he needs to grow up, because he’s going to be needed, too. The goal
isn’t to offer him false hope (you know that sickens me, if you read my
site…) The goal is to let him know that he isn’t alone–it doesn’t
fall all on his shoulders to take action. Does he have friends that
share his concerns? Do they take on kid-level projects?

As far as therapeutic help, I’d suggest you both go, and head to someone
who can teach you both stress management, relaxation training,
meditation and the like. Figuring out how to control anxiety and
overwhelming sadness is a skill we all could use getting better at.
Practice it together at night, or whenever he’s upset.

If you can’t console him when he’s crying, don’t try. Just be with him, and share those feelings of sadness with him. Help him to accept them for what they are –feelings that exist in his body, and reassure him that
expressing them is a good thing. He’s a strong boy for having such
strong emotions, and he’ll grow up to be a strong man who will fight for
the oceans and the apes with all of his might. He knows some things,
tell him, but there are other things still to learn. We know a lot
about a lot of things, but not everything.

Finally, I’d suggest having him do more research on groups like Roots
and Shoots
or related groups that direct his energies toward other kids who are doing things. If he doesn’t have a group of friends who think like he does, he can correspond with kids that do. Writing out his thoughts is great therapy, demonstrated to be so by research. Taking action is really important, even if you, as an adult, aren’t certain that a particular direction will ultimately “change things.” He’ll be learning important socialization and community action skills, if he’s not doing so already.

He has a part of the picture, but really not all of it. He said he isn’t concerned about himself, but he misses the fact that he IS a part of the planet, as much an animal as any other, and if other animals deserve a place here, so does he.

You’ve always been a sanity-provider, W.M.S.K. That’s what parents are. If you see a lot of symptoms I’ve described above, I’d suggest starting
with the relaxation training, and then get him more active with kids who
feel as he does. If that’s not helpful, check AAMFT and find a good
marriage and family therapist to go to, and take the entire family. I
prefer it, at least as a first step, to individual work with kids. That
way, if you are in the room, you can ask whatever you’d like (you can,
anyway, before you go in…) and monitor what’s happening.

I’m happy to offer other ideas, if you’d like to offer more details on
your situation. He sounds like a great kid. You’re lucky to be able to
parent him. And I feel lucky to live on a planet with him. We need
more like him.

Thanks again for writing, and continue to share if you’d like.

Best to you and yours,

Dr. K

Here’s a video to watch. Notice that this 13 year old girl mentions a world population of 5 billion. That was in 1992. She’s now 31 and today the world’s population is 6.7 billion…

Girl that Silenced the World

And this:

Cancel Catalog Campaign

Is it a waste of time to encourage children to be actively engaged in speaking out and direct their energies in these types of efforts? What do you think?

Do you have children who are deeply upset by the big 3 E’s? Write to me at Peakshrink AT peakoilblues DOT com

About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

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