The Eco-Warrior Generation: Empowering Youth to Confront Eco-Anxiety with Purpose

Four young people holding mobile phones with blue sky in the background.
Kerkez from Getty Images

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, youth are facing increasing levels of stress and anxiety, more than previous generations. The modern digital age has exposed kids to many concerns beyond their control, such as academic performance, family finances, body image, social status, and even global issues like fear of wars and climate change. 

This overwhelming sense of helplessness can exacerbate anxiety and depression among children as they constantly grapple with thoughts of uncertainty and worry about the future. The pre-pandemic years alone witnessed a staggering 27% rise in anxiety among children. With the advent of 24/7 access to news, social media, and messaging platforms, young minds are constantly bombarded with content about global warming, climate change, and eco-terrorism, leading to a new type of anxiety known as eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety, characterized by fear, powerlessness, and stress about the planet’s future, now affects adults and children. 

Fortunately, by empowering our youth with coping skills and tools like the entrepreneurial mindset, United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and design thinking, we can help them combat anxiety and be catalysts for positive change.

August 12th, 2023, is United Nations International Youth Day and the theme is Green Skills for Youth: Towards a Sustainable World. This is an opportunity to affect a shift in attitudes of today’s youth towards actionable steps to promote sustainability.

Shifting Mindsets: Embracing the Entrepreneurial Mindset

The entrepreneurial mindset offers a powerful tool to help children reframe their outlook on challenges and failures. We can instill a resilient and proactive attitude towards life by teaching kids to see problems as opportunities for growth and learning. 

Encouraging them to take initiative, think creatively, and persevere in the face of setbacks will empower them to take charge of their futures and positively impact the world around them. This means, as the adults in their lives, we need to step back and stop solving their problems. Instead, we should act as thought facilitators, asking them questions like:

  • What did you learn from this?
  • What could you do differently?
  • How might you respond differently? 
  • How will this information change your perception?

This can seem counterintuitive in a world of helicopter parenting, like we are setting kids up for failure. We should definitely help them up when they fall, maybe even apply a band-aid or two, but then we need to put them back on the bicycle and encourage them to try again. Promoting resilience and self-advocacy may be difficult now, but the long-term ramifications are life-changing for the better, especially among at-risk youth.

Embracing the Sustainable Development Goals

 A colorful grid with icons, text and numbers titled Sustainable Development Goals
United Nations

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), identified in 2012, present a roadmap for creating a better and more sustainable world by 2030. These goals address critical global issues, including environmental protection, clean energy, sustainable cities, responsible consumption, climate action, and marine conservation. 

Introducing youth to these environment-focused goals raises awareness and provides a focus. It enables them to choose an area they are passionate about and contribute to positive change.

Design Thinking: A Path to Innovative Solutions

Design Thinking is a human-centered problem-solving approach that empowers youth to tackle complex challenges creatively. By following a five-step process of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test & Refine, young minds can develop innovative solutions to real-world problems. 

This methodology fosters critical thinking and enhances empathy, collaboration, and adaptability – crucial skills in reducing anxiety and addressing global issues. The design thinking strategies are easy for young people to learn and using the principles sets them up for success. Have them identify something that concerns them, such as the amount of microplastics in the water, for example. They learn everything they can through the empathy and inquiry cycles. Then they define a specific problem related to the issue, such as, “Water bottles recycled into clothing are contributing to the microplastic problem, so how might we reduce the number of plastic water bottles?”. They will ideate as many ideas as possible around solving this problem, create a prototype, and then share their best idea with others for feedback and buy-in. 

For a challenge like this, a high school student might decide that the best way to impact microplastics is for the school to install water bottle refill stations and develop a campaign to promote the use of metal water bottles, or at least reusing plastic water bottles multiple times. This is not a huge lift but just think of the impact it could have if every high school across the US embraced this strategy. Small changes by individuals can have a significant impact.

Developing Resiliency Through Environmental Entrepreneurship

The escalating levels of eco-anxiety among today’s youth demand a proactive and empowering approach to combat it effectively. By introducing children to the entrepreneurial mindset, Sustainable Development Goals, and design thinking, we can equip them with the tools needed to face challenges head-on, tackle anxiety, and positively impact the world. 

As caregivers and educators, we are responsible for nurturing and guiding the next generation, allowing them to develop the resilience and confidence to navigate through life’s uncertainties and become the change-makers our world needs. Together, we can empower our youth to transform anxiety into action, making the world a better and more sustainable place for future generations.

To learn more about innovative approaches to K-12 education and building confidence with the next generation of entrepreneurs, visit Youth Entrepreneurship at Edson E+I Institute.

Kim Reynolds

Program Manager, Research + Development, ASU

Recent updates

View blog
View blog