Nature Deficit Disorder. It’s a thing.
Coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book “The Last Child in the Woods”, Nature Deficit Disorder speaks to “…the human costs of alienation from the natural world”, and Louv cites 3 root causes, those being:
- Parents sheltering kids (indoors) in order to keep them safe. The fear of "stranger danger" heavily fuelled by the media, is keeping children indoors
- The loss of our natural surroundings and the urbanization of our society
- Technology’s pull to spend more time inside. With the rise of video games, tablets, and television, the average American youth is spending more time in front of a screen
It’s clear that today's youth are spending significantly more time inside, due in no small part to increased engagement with technology. The average American child is now spending 7 hours a day in front of a screen, and this comes at an expense, as they conversely spend only 7 minutes a day in nature.
Quick math shows 1 minute is spent in nature for every 1 hour spent in technology, and that's not good.
In his book, Louv tells a story of interviewing a child who told him that he would rather spend time indoors “’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
One example, yes, but are we surprised by the annecdote?
Living here in British Columbia many of us feel close to nature, but 'feeling' may not be good enough. Of the ten's of thousands of kids we've hosted, many have never been to a real forest before, or paddled a canoe, or swam in a lake. We know the difference this makes, and we've touted the health and wellness benefits of time in nature for years.
We believe wholeheartedly in the recent studies that support these benefits. Studies that highlight the need for everyone, especially kids to spend time outside.
Kids get moving. There aren't too many ways of enjoying nature without moving one's body. Perfect for kids aren't totally interested in youth sport, nature provides a wonderful venue for exercise. Not only is fitness and movement great phisiologically, but it seems to make them more focused - especially beneficial for kids with ADHD.
It promotes creativity and imagination. This unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
It teaches responsibility. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.
It provides different stimulation. Nature may seem less stimulating than your son’s violent video game, but in reality, it activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments. “As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow,” Louv warns, “and this reduces the richness of human experience.”
It makes them think. Louv says that nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide. The phenomena that occur naturally in backyards and parks every day make kids ask questions about the earth and the life that it supports.
It builds confidence. The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking trail or lake, and letting your child choose how he treats nature means he has the power to control his own actions.
It reduces stress and fatigue. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.
So while screen time is the easier, a likely a more popular choice, it’s more important than ever to find time for outdoor play.