Real Life

Real life: Why this mum is happy to let her daughter skip school for the climate strike

''Action is the antidote to despair.''

By Alex Lilly
Whenever we turn on the TV or radio, we are bombarded with climate change information that's practically screaming "THE PLANET IS DYING, ALL IS LOST," in our faces.
It's even manifested itself into a disorder known as "eco-anxiety," where people, particularly young people, feel despair and anguish over the state of the planet and its dwindling resources with many feeling that there's nothing that can be done to save it.
But psychologist and mum Susie Burke says that there is an antidote to this despair, and it can all start with your child skipping school for the day.
Susie and her family have always talked about climate change and sustainability. In fact, Susie's 14 year-old daughter Milou Albrecht often attended events hosted by her mum's Central Vic Climate Action Group that had frequent protests against the funding of the Adani coalmines.
"I'd take days off school with my friends but it wasn't called a school strike, we were just taking action and it just so happened that it fell on a school day," Milou tells Now To Love.
"Milou had been involved in quite a lot of different actions and usually tried to plan them after school but sometimes lunch on a weekday is the ideal time for an event," Susie adds.
"Milou would often want to come along to those events and bring friends but the friends' parents would usually be quite happy to sacrifice a day of their education to go and try to convince a bank."
Susie and her 14 year-old daughter Milou have been passionate about the environment and sustainability for years. (Image credit: Susie Burke)
However when Milou read about Swedish school student Greta Thunberg, that was the turning point.
The then-15 year-old Greta gained international fame when she sat outside Sweden's parliament to highlight how young people are being negatively affected by climate change and how numerous countries are not taking urgent action.
So in September 2018 when Milou read about Greta's actions, the Victorian school student along with her friends was inspired to skip school.
"I read it and then I had about a day to think about it to fully realise what she was doing and the extent of what she was doing," Milou tells Now To Love. "I was thinking 'What's so different about Sweden from Australia?'"
Milou was inspired by Swedish school student Greta Thunberg. (Image credit: Susie Burke)
With Greta's passion behind them, Milou along with her school friends started by protesting outside of the offices of their local representatives.
Since then, thousands of school students around the world have followed Milou's lead and taken either a day or half a day off school to tell politicians to treat climate change as a real and urgent issue. Or as Milou puts it, temporarily sacrificing their education to save their futures.
"We're not really giving them the solution- we're asking them, we're pleading them to apply those solutions that are already out there and research to make our lives safer. We're young, we're not trained in those professions, we're not trying to be the experts ourselves."
Climate strikes have swept the nation with students joining together to peacefully protest. (Image credit: Getty Images)
As a psychologist, Susie says that two coping strategies when faced with anxiety are emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping.
While emotion-focused coping is about doing things that will help you to manage your feelings like hanging out with friends, talking to people and spending time in nature, activism is a good example of problem-focused coping where you can do things to try to reduce the problem that is causing the stress.
"Children are connected with their community and they have different engagement, they're doing things with friends and in a fun way, that's filled their sense of efficacy so from that perspective I'm quite supportive of children collecting together and speaking out with non-violent action on something that's going to affect their entire lifetime."
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Susie adds that she's come to realise a lot of children have overtaken their parents in terms of their levels of awareness and understanding and energy for taking action on climate change.
"So rather than talking to parents about talking to their children about taking action on climate change we're talking with parents about how to hear and support their children in the action that they are trying to take," she explains.
"I guess I'm encouraging parents to facilitate their children to get involved and take action because I know how tiring it is for young people. At the same time, parents being engaged with their children enables them to be able to see when children might be struggling with the feelings that are being brought up because of climate change which is an important starting place for parents to help them have a hopeful perspective or be able to see they're not alone."

On Friday 20th September, marches in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are taking place and you can be sure that Susie will be proud to see her daughter there.
"Milou is a 14 year old but this is a generation that are going to be wanting to make a difference for their own lives and their own children," she explains.
"So it matters enormously to them that we see a safe place to bring children into and find a way to develop climate policies quickly and effectively to restore their climate so it's critically important for all of us and them too."