Don’t let kids in your life fall victim to nature deficit disorder

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv interviews a fourth-grader who says, “I like to play indoors better, because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” In this age of video games and computer screens, Louv cautions that we are raising a generation suffering from what he calls “nature deficit disorder.”

I was an urban kid – I grew up two blocks from the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis – but even so, I spent time outside in our yard, in city parks, biking around our neighborhood, and exploring the bluffs along the Mississippi River with my friends. (My mom would have had a heart attack seeing me climb along the bluffs.) I also spent summers with my aunt and grandfather in Arkansas, walking the dusty back roads and encountering snakes, dragonflies and even horses on neighbors’ farms.

Am I better for it? Louv certainly thinks so. Our kids’ lack of contact with nature is making them overweight, depressed and distracted, he says. They’re also missing opportunities to explore and to experience the wonder inspired by nature.

We’ve taught children to fear the outdoors, and in part our caution is justified. It’s a scarier world out there, and we want to protect our kids from strangers wanting to do them harm. But we’re creating a generation that prefers being inside all the time. Louv points to a UCLA report showing that American kids now spend virtually no time in their own yards.

Research shows that interaction with the natural environment plays an important role in children’s development, including building problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as fostering creativity. As one example, Louv points to research on attention-deficit disorder at the University of Illinois, in which exposure to nature was shown to decrease ADD symptoms.

If you have kids in your life, I’d encourage you to think about getting them outside more. The Children & Nature Network has some good thoughts about how to get started – safely, enjoyably and educationally.

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5 Responses to Don’t let kids in your life fall victim to nature deficit disorder

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Don’t let kids in your life fall victim to #nature deficit disorder #healthandfitness #society --

  2. Lary Huls says:

    This is so true. When Used to take Scouts backpacking, including my son and all of his friends who grew up on video games, I always noticed that the first 24 hours out they would be talking, talking, talking and then they would get steadily quieter and start hearing and commenting on the sounds around us.
    Also, I would be looking around on these trips and see some interesting formation or curiously bent tree or a great peak off in the distance. I’d say, “Hey, look at that incredible (fill-in-the-blank).” They’d gaze off in the direction I was pointing and not “see” it till I described it. I think their field of vision gets very short and narrow and they need these experiences to relearn how to expand it. I believe-but can’t prove it-that this helps create the other kind of vision, i.e. grand ideas, outside-the-box thinking, artistic creation or whatever you might call it.
    When I was a kid, I looked at the top of the tree or the top of the mountain and decided that’s where I wanted to be. If my focal point were only 24 inches away, I don’t think I would have been looking there.

    • Peter Faur says:

      Thanks for your comments, Lary. I think you’re right … the more we learn to look up and out, the more possibilities we can see.

  3. Tat says:

    ‘I like to play indoors better…’ this is so sad. I’ve just recently found out about nature deficit disorder, but it has been my intuitive feeling all along that kids need to spend as much time outside as possible. My own observations of my kids certainly confirm that: outdoors they are happier and behave better.

    • Peter Faur says:

      Tat, thanks for your comment. I’m a board member at the Phoenix Zoo, and this is an issue of concern to the zoo. We want people to feel connected to nature and the environment; if that connection doesn’t start as a child, it’s difficult to foster later in life.

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