Middle Schoolers Have the Power to Shift Conservative Parents’ Views on Climate Change

New research finds after middle schoolers complete a climate change curriculum, their parents also become more concerned about the phenomenon. High levels of parental trust in their children often leads to these parents being willing to listen to or accept their child’s views on complex topics.

by Tom Jacobs edited by O Society September 24, 2019

Many American conservatives, including Donald Trump, still refuse to acknowledge the frightening reality of climate change. How can scientists help them?

New research provides a close-to-home answer: by teaching their kids.

A new study reports teaching middle school students about climate change greatly increases concern about the topic among their parents. This effect is far more pronounced for parents who identify themselves as politically conservative.


“Children are great educators,” co-author Kathryn Stevenson of North Carolina State University announces the findings. “They seem to help people critically consider ways in which being concerned about climate change may be in line with their values.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change and conducted in coastal North Carolina. It begins with 238 middle school students and 292 of their parents taking a survey designed to measure level of concern about climate change.

One hundred and sixty-six of the students are then taught a specific climate change curriculum, which emphasizes the effect of rising temperatures on local species. “We design the curriculum to maximize the chance of child-to-parent communication on the topic,” the researchers write.


Specifically, the kids participate in activities focusing on “the difference between weather and climate, how climate and weather relate to wildlife habitat, how wildlife managers can make use of adaptive management to deal with climate change, and how individual actions can impact the effect of climate change on wildlife.”

Once it is complete, the kids and parents again complete the level-of-concern questionnaire. The researchers find worry about climate change increases among parents in general, “the shift is more pronounced in families where children are taught the curriculum,” says lead author Danielle Lawson of North Carolina State University.


This elevated level of concern is “most pronounced for three groups: conservative parents, parents of daughters, and fathers,” Lawson reports.

On a 16-point scale (with minus eight being “not concerned at all” to plus eight being “extremely concerned”), the level of apprehension among self-described politically conservative parents increases a remarkable 4.77 points.

Looked at another way, the difference in level of concern between self-described “liberal” and “conservative” parents shrinks from 4.5 points to 1.2 points after their youngsters complete the curriculum.

The researchers attribute these results to “intergenerational learning,” noting adolescents who are introduced to climate change “are less influenced by socio-ideological factors than adults.” In turn, learning about global warming from one’s kids seems to skirt the mental roadblocks of ideological resistance.

“High levels of parental trust in their children often leads to parents being willing to listen to or accept their child’s views on complex topics,” the researchers conclude. “Children may provide a communication pathway resilient to longstanding socio-ideological barriers to learning about, caring about, and ultimately acting to address climate change.”

And so they might. Remember, after painting a harmonious portrait of the natural world and its inhabitants, the Bible declares “a little child shall lead them.”


“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.”

Isaiah 11:6

3 thoughts on “Middle Schoolers Have the Power to Shift Conservative Parents’ Views on Climate Change

  1. It’s a good distraction from the growing risks of nuclear war, though it has long been considered “distasteful” (at best) to exploit kids for political purposes. Democrats had selected “climate” as their 2020 theme, therefore the world rises, joins hands, sings “We Are the World” (or something). Shiploads of fossil fuels will be burned as people fly and drive to climate change rallies, etc., etc.


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