Nature Deficit Disorder
In his book, Last Child In the Woods, author Richard Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).
This is not an actual medical diagnosis. What Louv does say is that today’s children suffer from too little exposure to nature. He argues that being exposed to nature is essential for any child’s development, and that we now have a second generation of children for whom the natural world is not a part of their experience, and that they suffer for that accordingly.
The suggested reasons for this deficit do not come as a shock.
- The structure of our economy demands parents spend more time at work and less time with their children.
- With parents at work, children are now being supervised after school in structured programs rather than playing outside.
- Fears surrounding “ stranger danger” have pushed children inside rather than exploring outside.
- For many urban/suburban children, there has been a loss of outdoor space-it is not just animals that are competing for space, but our children- and the car culture and the lack of sidewalks in many communities is making play and movement harder.
- The evolution into an increasingly risk-averse culture, spurred by the demands of the insurance companies that have eroded the possibilities for play and exploration.
- Competition from technology places the idea of exploring outside at a huge disadvantage. The availability of technology, from TV to the internet, and the amount of time children are spending time in their use is overwhelming. Given the choice, we all understand which our children will choose.
What is the impact of our children’s increasingly distant relationship with the outdoors?
- It is likely contributing towards the record levels of child obesity. A sedentary lifestyle is increasingly viewed as a major health threat to children and adults. Climbing a hill or a tree burns calories. Being outdoors keeps the child away from the food cupboard.
- There is some concern that those children susceptible to challenges such as ADD or depression are harmed by limited access to the outdoors.
- There is less objective evidence that creativity and general academic performance are negatively impacted by the absence of an outdoors experience. However, studies of the negative impact of artificial light on schoolchildren are clear about its harm.
- Common sense suggests that the absence of the physical activities negatively impacts health and prohibits the type of collaboration and problem solving that are regarded as essential 21st-century skills.
What Should Parents Do?
There is a simple answer to this. It requires a commitment on the part of parents to make the outdoors and nature a part of their family life. It will require a commitment of time, energy and, sometimes, financial resources to make it happen.
However, this is one of those areas of family life where a commitment has only an upside for the whole family.
The easiest thing most people can do is to take a walk in the woods. Build it into your weekly schedule to spend one hour a week together walking, talking together, watching, observing, playing, collecting, reflecting-whatever works.
Louv brings his book towards a close by suggesting the new dynamics around our relationship with the world of nature.
“Today’s young people are growing up in America’s third frontier. This frontier has yet to be completely formed, but we do know the general characteristics. Among them: detachment from our source of food, the virtual disappearance of the farm family, the end of biological absolutes, an ambivalent new relationship between humans and other animals, new suburbs shrinking open space, and so on.”
This is the brave new world our children are inheriting from us. It is a beautiful world, and we have an obligation to help our children see this, too.