Informing parents of the risks posed by climate change may be best done through their children, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the North Carolina State University (NCSU) designed a curriculum that was focused on raising climate change awareness in parents through middle school children.
They found this to be an effective way of creating higher levels of concern in the parents.
Male parents and conservative parents, who began least interested in climate change effects, showed the strongest change in attitude.
Daughters were shown to be the most influential with their parents, the study found.
The latest study tested the effectiveness a specially designed curriculum for 10-14-year-olds in maximising what scientists called child-to-parent ‘intergenerational transfer’ on climate change.
The term is described by the authors of the study as ‘the transfer of knowledge, attitudes or behaviours from children to parents.
Both the children and parents in the study were asked to rate their worry about climate change using a scale. Zero represented a neutral attitude whereas a minus score indicated no reason to worry.
A score of one to five represented increasing concerns – with five being the highest level.
They found that children who participated in the curriculum showed larger increases in climate change concern than students in the control group.
They found that changes in parents’ climate change concern were strongest among the groups that were usually the most resistant to messages about the detrimental outcomes climate change.
The biggest changes in attitudes were reported in conservative fathers who began by showing low concern and high scepticism around climate change.
Daughters were also more effective than sons in changing climate change ideology among their parents.
Overall, the researchers found their method was a promising way for overcoming barriers to understanding climate change in adults that broke free of economic backgrounds and political beliefs.
To make the learning more localised, the researchers used species local to both North Carolina and the southeastern United States as individuals have been shown to engage with climate change more readily when it is framed in local contexts.
The authors who led on the study from NCSU wrote in the latest report: ‘Because climate change perceptions in children seem less susceptible to the influence of worldview or political context, it may be possible for them to inspire adults towards higher levels of climate concern, and in turn, collective action.
‘As adolescents learn about climate change, they are less influenced by socio-ideological factors than adults are.’
‘Although climate change communication and education campaigns have mixed or even polarising results among adults, climate change education promotes climate change concern and mitigation behaviours among children.’
The researchers noted how children have been shown to influence their parents on a range of socially controversial topics such as sexual orientation, and may be able to make similar inroads with climate change.
‘Given the special relationship children have with parents, they may even be able to transcend socio-ideological barriers to climate change concern,’ the researchers added.
In the latest paper, the research team noted that the US adult population were particularly polarised in their beliefs in climate change and much of this can be explained by socio-ideological factors.
Political ideology is consistently one of the major drivers and affects both the information received about climate change and how it is interpreted, according to the researchers.
Conservative males are more likely to show low concern and high scepticism around climate change.
‘Our results suggest that intergenerational learning may overcome barriers to building climate concern,’ the report concluded.
The full study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.