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New report warns of long-lasting damage that extreme weather has on children's development: 'Sometimes irreversible [damage]'

"This affects all of us. Children are effectively the future of society."

"This affects all of us. Children are effectively the future of society."

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A troubling new report by the American Psychological Association and environmental advocacy nonprofit ecoAmerica warns that weather disasters can have a lasting impact on children's mental health before they're even born. 

What's happening?

According to an APA press release, extreme weather events such as flash floods or forest fires can disrupt cognitive and emotional development in unborn and young children. The analysis found these developmental issues are "sometimes irreversible," especially without early intervention and support. 

More specifically, the possible negative impacts on a developing fetus include a greater risk of developmental delays, anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning disorders, and poor self-control. In addition, natural disasters can make unborn children more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders, as the report explained. 

All of these issues — along with insomnia, climate anxiety, PTSD, poor academic performance, and increased suicide risk — are also serious concerns for young children and adolescents dealing with extreme weather

The report's authors added that some children are even more susceptible to climate-related mental disorders, such as those who have disabilities or live in poverty. Weather events can also have indirect consequences, such as a heat wave disrupting their classes or a hurricane displacing them from home. 

"If our responsibility to ensure a safe climate and thriving future for our children and future generations was not clear enough, this report brings it into vivid relief. My hope is for anyone caring for children — especially policymakers — to join me in following its guidance," said Meighen Speiser, executive director of ecoAmerica and a coauthor of the report, in the press release.

Why is this concerning? 

As the report explained, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events can cause long-lasting impacts on children's mental health. This directly affects their future, as they may struggle to plan for continuing education and a career if they're dealing with one natural disaster after another. 

Plus, many young children already feel stressed because of other factors, such as food and housing insecurity, concerns about mass violence, and online bullying, per the APA 2023 trends report

"This affects all of us. Children are effectively the future of society," Dr. Sue Clayton, a psychology professor at the College of Wooster and the report's lead author, told CNN

What's being done about it?

According to the APA press release, many children want to participate in climate solutions and do their part to help the planet. However, on a societywide scale, the report's authors say changes are needed, such as lessons in schools about the changing climate, regular screenings for climate-related distress by psychologists, and improving infrastructure in schools and cooling centers. 

Finally, they said children need adequate parental support to help them manage their fears and encourage them to take age-appropriate action, like joining climate action groups or learning about composting.

However, the most important thing we can do to help one another and the planet is to reduce the amount of pollution we generate. Buying locally grown produce, walking more places instead of driving, and weatherproofing our homes are small changes that can make a big difference.

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