Fighting Nature-Deficit Disorder & Research
Today, a child’s life is spent mostly indoors. The fundamental nature of childhood has changed in a single generation. Eighty percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas & most of us are not within walking distance of a park. The unstructured outdoor childhood has all but vanished. For many adults, this change has been so gradual that it has gone unnoticed and their children do not know any different lifestyle. Some say that the internet has replaced the woods in terms of inventive space. Most teens are not comfortable in the woods and they do not choose to be there. They are suffering from nature-deficit disorder, a descriptive phrase coined to help sound a warning about this growing trend.**
To make things worse, our youth have been bombarded with information on how our world is failing -- on overuses of and abuses to our lands. For years, environmental tactics have been used to scare and shame young people into doing the “right thing” in the hopes that they will grow up as responsible stewards. But, these tactics may be having the opposite effect. By associating nature with fear and doom, children are turned off emotionally. By making them feel responsible for the Earth’s problems, they are becoming more distanced instead of connected. Many teens have lost all feeling of joy for the natural world that surrounds them.
** In his book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005), Richard Louv directly links the absence of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends: the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. This is the first book to bring together a body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
Curious about what research has to say?
A growing body of research indicates that direct exposure to nature is essential for our physical and emotional health. One useful website that has compiled relevant research on the benefits to young people from their contact with the outdoors & nature is the Children and Nature Network. Their work compiles research abstracts with links to the original studies - downloadable from their website. Take a look.
What we need to do...
We need to acknowledge the importance of nature in our lives and recognize that unstructured time spent in the out-of-doors is not just leisure time -- it’s an essential investment in our children’s health. It is as important to nurture creativity and wonder as to instill self-discipline and other essential values in our children. We need to reverse the trend of nature-deficit disorder while there is still a generation with fond memories of outdoor experiences. We need to help teens get outside -- to simply spend time in their natural surroundings, so they can begin to enter nature through their own imaginations. We need to do what we can to reconnect teens with nature by increasing their opportunities to get outside.
Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
~ Gary Snyder