“Nature-Deficit Disorder”: The Real Child Epidemic That Should Concern Us

In the few weeks following my second son D.A.’s birth, I was well aware that my first son T.A. needed more stimulation that just a crying newborn brother in the confines of four walls. Empowered by the nursing privacy and versatility of a sling for the baby, I loaded my two boys in the car and headed for the local Palm Beach Zoo.

I was glad to be outside and although I would love to do more activity with my sons, the newborn’s needs and my healing process will have to delay those desires. As I pushed my older son in a stroller through the manicured trail of the zoo, we came upon a small group of adults huddled around a speaking podium. My verbal toddler didn’t want to stick around but I gently admonished him in Greek that we were going to wait and see what this was about. I’m ever so glad we did.

It turned out this fateful morning that the Palm Beach Zoo leaders and the neighboring South Florida Science Museum were hosting a small talk and news conference for the visiting bestselling author Richard Louv. His most recent publication is “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder”. It was during his speech that I had already determined I was going to purchase this book as he spoke how our zoos and parks should be the “gateway” for our children and their interaction with nature.

I had heard about this author before while reading a magazine in the past where his writings were mentioned. I’m surprised I hadn’t read his material earlier as I believe I’ve had a parallel passion for the fight to make sure our future generations don’t become so engrossed with the ever-encompassing digital age that they lose touch with actual reality in our true 3-D natural surroundings.

Let me share a quote from Mr. Louv’s Introduction in his book “Last Child in the Woods”:
“’One evening when my boys were younger, Matthew, then ten, looked at me from across a restaurant table and said quite seriously, ‘Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?’… He was right. Americans around my age, baby boomers or older, enjoyed a kind of free, natural play that seems, in the era of kid pagers, instant messaging, and Nintendo, like a quaint artifact.”

His book covers a wide variety of ways to approach what he calls the emergence of a “nature-deficit disorder” among children today. He astutely conveys that in our efforts to keep our children safe, for instance, we have made nature a dangerous, off-limits place that is best appreciated through video or virtual reality. My favorite quote based on Mr. Louv’s childhood love for climbing trees: “The woods were my Ritalin”.

The most interesting point that Mr. Louv has made in this book (I have yet to finish it but am close to it as I read it during night feedings) is that our culture has made “saving the environment” such an important mantra for the education of our children. Yet, at the same time, we have made it increasingly difficult to allow our youth to really know and experience the very environment we preach to them is so critical to maintain. From Mr. Louv : “Parents, educators, other adults, institutions—the culture itself—may say one thing to children about nature’s gifts, but so many of our actions and messages—especially the ones we cannot hear ourselves deliver—are different. And children hear very well.”

If you are able to spare the time to read this book, I strongly recommend it. Louv brings up the fact that time spent in nature is very therapeutic not only for young ones but for adults as well. There is something healing about the wind, the plants, the animals, and the time that is not set by boundaries of software or physical hardware.

RVSB

Nature as God’s Classroom…

Gardening or farming is not for everyone as a hobby or career, however, I do believe it should be part of our education as children with refresher courses in our adulthood.

This past weekend I worked in my garden and mini-fruit tree orchard with a hired hand to go through my approximately 25 x 75 foot raised bed garden and surrounding area weeding, mulching, digging and planting.  My subject of my nature lesson on Saturday became dramatically clear as we bagged nearly half a dozen black lawn bags with unwanted weeds and dead vegetation.  How do my plants survive through adversity?  Translation:  How do we humans fare in adversity?

In my nearly twenty years of active “gardening” of some sort, I have often run into living analogies of our humanity in the natural world of plants and organisms.  As I’ve matured in my adult life, I’m comforted by witnessing both the triumphs and failures of things in nature as they echo of my own life experiences up to present.

This past Saturday’s lesson is a repeat, I’ve seen it before but I never get bored with its wisdom revealed.  Of the 9 fruit-bearing trees that I’ve planted in the corner of my mother’s property, 5 of them are actually growing well and thriving.  The remaining four have been a struggle to keep from withering away.  Conventional wisdom would have us infer that the five trees which are doing well had been meticulously monitored since their planting complete with consistent water, perhaps a protecting plastic for the young trunks, clean mulch lacking weeds, good feed and soil and so forth.  The reality is that I was only able to really pay special mind to the four trees that are now barely clinging to life–they have been hit with water stress, bugs, molds, fatigue, et cetera.

What does that say?  Does it mean I let the five go on untouched?  No, actually, I have gone in a couple of times this year and cleared the five healthy trees of their choking weeds, refreshed their soil, put down mulch again, fed them and pruned.  However, I did allow them to weather the trials of a record summer of heat in Florida, bear the burden of giant ant hills and thick weeds.  Basically, I didn’t try to protect them from any and all adversity that could strike them.  I did endure guilty feelings this season as I thought I was truly neglecting them and would suffer their loss.  Instead, as I would clean them up periodically, I found that they had gained strength, built immunities, grown thicker and taller and overall have a bright future of bearing me healthy fruit yields in future seasons.

As the worker and I finished our labor this weekend, I walked and inspected each of my nine fruit trees individually.  I’m still amazed by what seems such a backward logic to many of us, especially parents.  By allowing some of my young trees to fend for themselves on a number of naturally occurring elements, I essentially ensured that they would garner their own armor and future strength reserve for battles ahead.  While my poor four trees that I donned so much attention on ended up stifling them and rendering them ill-equipped for the unforseen weather patterns and bug raids that would occur in this summer season.

For myself, this lesson yielded a few layers of personal learning.  As a parent, it tells me that it’s okay to not hover over my son constantly in certain situations.  Obvious things aside like danger of drowning or being burned by the stove, it does benefit my son to let him navigate some social situations on his own or witnessing him making mistakes in a play scenario so that he can nurture his own sense of troubleshooting through things.  As a wife, it reminds me that my husband and I will sometimes feel that God has gone silent in our marriage when we seem to be capsizing in one of life’s tumultuous storms out in the proverbial sea.  But as we cling to each other and our love for our Maker, we will weather those storms and truly enjoy the stronger vessel our love is as we sail gorgeous seas together.  As a friend, it comforts me that while I cannot always properly nurture all my relationships, this doesn’t mean that I will be destined to lose any particular friend as there are those whom we cross paths with in this life that are not affected by the passage of our human time.

This is a pretty inexhaustible subject and yet I wanted to share it with all of you because we are so busy in our lives that when a nature lesson like that hits me with precious information that can help everyone I want to shout it out to the world…so I type this post to you world.

Happy Labor Day!

R.V.S.B.

Our Children and Nature: A Relationship Worth Fostering

Last week I was relaxing with my husband in our bed watching a favorite sitcom via www.hulu.com and between show segments were these short 30-60 second commercials.  Usually I’m pretty oblivious to the ads except for one that made me nearly fall out of bed in disbelief.

It was a short public service type message that was speaking to the lack of outdoor play time that our children get these days.  The piece closed with a mission proposal to parents that we get our children outside for at least an hour a day along with a website: www.greenhour.org

I read recently in our local newspaper about the current statistics out from the National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org)  and was astonished at the idea that many kids get no more than 5-7 minutes a day with nature outside.  I don’t know if that includes accounting for those who play outdoor sports but I also don’t think that really matters.  Bottom line I just can’t believe that this has happened under our noses and am consumed with avoiding such a hazard for my son and any other children we may have.

Boggled by the recent news article and the commercial computer ad, I did an internet search and came across congressional testimony before the Interior and Environmental Subcommittee by Richard Louv at the U.S. House of Representatives on February 27, 2007 entitled “Leave No Child Inside”.  I highly recommend pulling this up and reading it if you would like a concise overview of the problem our nation is facing with the next generation being disconnected with nature.  Mr. Louv is also the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder”.

In Mr. Louv’s testimony he brings up several reasons why this dramatic decline in children’s outdoor play has occurred in recent years.   There are the obvious technology boom of video games, DVD players, iPods and the Wii (an interactive video gaming system).  While although more muted of a reason, it is a nonetheless pervasive mentality that we have as parents today of being phobic that our child will be the next Fox News or MSNBC poster abduction child.

However, as we delve deeper into this issue I believe you’ll agree with me that the adverse effects of our children having less contact with nature makes the risks of allowing/fostering their interactions outside a small issue.  For instance, there is scientific evidence through various studies to indicate that spending time outdoors helps our children’s cognitive development.

You don’t have to be a “tree-hugger” to also appreciate the fact that we need our children to be in touch with nature so we can ensure our Earth’s future by having conservationists and so forth emerge out of the next generation to replace the current ones who aren’t getting any younger.

Maybe it was my son’s newborn jaundice but I really cannot recall him being kept inside too long on a daily basis.  This also includes the days I wrapped him up like an Eskimo baby and tucked him into the Bob jogging stroller while I attempted running in my postpartum blue days when it was in the 20s and 30s outside in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

I even introduced him to all the trees in our yard at that time and later in my family’s yards.  Nothing special, just a ‘good morning’ and patting the bark.  That was when he was less than a year old, nowadays he’s interested in what’s in the trees like the squirrels and the woodpecker.  He also enjoys feeling the different types of bark.  It goes without saying that he’s in love with those trees that give him stuff like oranges and tangerines here in Florida.

I’m not going to say it’s easy to get your children outside, especially if they’ve never really had a relationship with nature.  It’s a definite sacrifice for parents to get children into nature especially if they are school-age as you contend with their school schedule, any extracurriculars, your work schedule, homework, dinner and so forth.  Of course, if you’ve chosen home-schooling, you have a time advantage that I hope you’re using effectively.

What I’m trying to say is that this is a relationship important enough to foster even if it means you need to adjust dinner time or what TV shows you want to watch–whatever sacrifice it may take on our part as parents is truly worth the dividends for our children to grow up connected to the natural world that we ourselves depend upon for everyday living.

RVSB

Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"