A presentation aimed at inspiring students to take action on climate change ended up traumatizing a group of 7-year-old Canadian school children, according to one parent.
Elmbank Junior Middle Academy in Etobicoke played a video showing teen activist Greta Thunberg’s star-making speech to U.N. leaders at a climate summit in September, the National Post reported on Tuesday.
The presentation, which took place in the school’s library on Oct. 4, elicited terrified reactions from the group of second and third-graders who had gathered around to watch Thunberg’s speech.
“I don’t wanna die,” at least one student yelled, according to the Post.
Lejla Blazevic, whose 8-year-old daughter Joylaea attends Elmbank, described what happened when her child came home from school that day.
“She’s like, ‘Mommy, they said that we’re going to die in eight years,’” Blazevic told the Post.
“They were terrified with the information.”
The school’s librarian, Timothy Du Vernet, said in an email to Blazevic and seen by the Post that the Thunberg video was meant to inspire the kids.
“The ‘message’ of her speech for our students was that they can make a difference and the future of our planet concerns our children most directly,” he wrote in the email. “It was not the intention to cause distress in our students. Climate change issues are facing all of us. [Joylaea]’s concerns and fears are the very reason we need to respond.”
Blazevic said her daughter informed her that during the presentation a friend yelled, “I don’t wanna die” and the rest of the class joined in.
Ryan Bird, a spokesman for the Toronto District School Board, disputed Blazevic’s claim.
Bird told the Post only one student made the “I don’t wanna die” remark. The teacher, according to Bird, immediately told the class it wasn’t true.
“We were assured from the family that indeed he was just joking,” Bird said.
Two experts interviewed by the Post said the presentation was probably inappropriate for children.
“Are they supposed to feel empowered by Greta or are they supposed to feel that she’s telling them that their lives are going to be terrible?” said New York psychologist Elizabeth Allured. “I think (the ticking clock) just scares children — and understandably.”
Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria, said “very extreme presentations can cause … a reaction against the message.”
“A good message for children … is to counteract the idea that it’s hopeless,” he told the Post.
In September, Thunberg delivered an emotional speech at the U.N. accusing world leaders of destroying her future with their inaction on climate change.
“This is all wrong,” said Thunberg. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!”
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Thunberg added. “And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”