Silvia Collado: “Child anxiety about the climate crisis could become pathological”

  • Doctor in Environmental Psychology and professor at the University of Zaragoza, the researcher is studying how eco-anxiety affects minors

Doctor in Environmental Psychology, Silvia Collado (Cuenca, 1984) is a tenured professor in the Department of Psychology and Sociology at the University of Zaragoza. Co-author of the book ‘Ecological awareness and well-being in childhood’, she is currently researching child eco-anxiety. The study, whose first conclusions will be ready in March, is being carried out in collaboration with the Pontifical University of Comillas and the Autonomous University of Madrid.

How can we define eco-anxiety in boys and girls?

It is relatively little studied and there is still no agreed definition. In general, we can say that it is a feeling of discomfort, nervousness, tension, fear, frustration and anxiety in the face of environmental problems and the negative consequences that may have on the planet.

What age group would be the most affected?

Middle childhood -7, 8 and 9 years old- is where the greatest environmental concern and empathy towards nature are shown. Above all, the animals. That restlessness lessens when you reach preadolescence and adolescence. And it takes off again at 18, 19 and 20 years old.

Why especially the animals?

Well, actually, it depends on the type of animal. It depends on how the children perceive your attractiveness. They have certain preferences: squirrels, dolphins, koalas, lynxes & mldr; They want to preserve them more than others, like spiders or bats.

Can childhood eco-anxiety be a pathology that requires professional help?

We have to differentiate between adaptive anxiety and non-adaptive anxiety. The first is useful because having a certain nervousness and concern about the climate crisis tends to carry out more environmental actions. The second type of anxiety, the one that is not adaptive, could be considered pathological, although there is still not enough scientific work. They are those adolescents and young people with high levels of anxiety who are blocked and, therefore, star in less pro-environmental actions. They stop acting. They have a feeling of lack of control. They think that whatever they do, it doesn’t matter and that the situation is getting out of hand. When you reach very high levels of anxiety, including the ecological issue, you have to treat it at home, at school and if you need professional help, then too. Of course.

Is it a good option to hide information from children and young people and not expose them to the press?

Children have to know the information, including the climate crisis and natural disasters, as is happening with the La Palma volcano. Do not hide what is happening. The more knowledge you have about something, the more likely you are to want to act. It is part of the environmental education strategies. The problem is giving too much catastrophic information. So, the conclusions are: nobody does anything, the governments do not take measures, recycling at home is useless, I am not in control of the situation, what a burden. If we see that this is the case with our son, we must help him understand the information. That is, we can handle apocalyptic messages and bet on more positive ones. The over-information is not as important as the type of information.

“You don’t have to hide from children what is happening with the weather. But you have to know how to handle apocalyptic messages”

From school what can be done?

To begin with, naturalize the day to day. You have to bring nature to the patios, which are often made of concrete. In the US, even recess is being eliminated to increase the study of subjects. You have to go out to the nearest park to get to know the seasons and the flora, you have to set up a garden at school, you have to write on both sides of a sheet of paper and tell them that this reduces waste. This will help them to have a greater sense of control and decrease their possible anxiety about environmental problems.

As a psychologist and researcher, why are you so interested in childhood eco-anxiety?

I think we can do something to stop or mitigate human action on the planet, which is our home and we have to take care of it. We must start with childhood and adolescence.


Because they are going to be the future voters, the future buyers of a car, the future consumers and the future tourists. To carry out the research we need instruments with the objective of measuring eco-anxiety and the questions must be adapted to the age of the children. We are collecting data among adolescents and with students in 4th, 5th and 6th grade of primary school. It is not easy to access the schools. Hopefully we will carry out the study throughout Spain. For now, we have started in Madrid, Valencia and Cuenca.

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When will we know the conclusions?

We will have the first results in March 2022, but we will have to wait at least a year to see the research published in scientific journals.

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