Nature Deficit Disorder
Our disconnect from nature is killing us
This is a big country. We have a lot of open space, a lot of what we might call “nature.” But having traveled 46 of the 50 states, I will attest that nature is being tested by human encroachment. That’s not good. (Even in Dundee. Check it out.)
Years ago, back when flying was actually fun, my friends and I would enjoy taking a red-eye from LAX to JFK for an extended weekend of “research” — which amounted to hanging in clubs scouting new musical talent for our various production companies. On those overnight flights, (when we weren’t hanging with stewardesses sharing intoxicants in the lower deck galleys as the passengers slept,) we could gaze out the windows of the 747 at dark expanses of America. The minutes would pass before one could see even a single light down below. By the conclusion of my days in LA though, flying cross country at night didn’t offer even one minute of darkness across the landscape in view. Nature is suffering our intrusion.
Disconnect at your own risk. Richard Louv is a journalist turned author and speaker. In 2005, Louv published Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Nature-Deficit Disorder is a social dysfunction describing how our children have become detached from the nature experience. Louv states it best in the book’s introduction: “Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment — but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest — but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.”
That experiential detachment, that deficit, bears its own ill fruit. Man is a natural animal. As much as we think we can, we cannot fully disconnect and when we drift away from nature, our health — psychologically and physically — and our happiness and human experience suffer for it. Science tells us about the benefits that the nature experience presents for our children and Louv’s book documents it. More, he suggests what we can do to heal the breach.
A book can enlighten a populace but even a bestseller can only do so much. Real change generates from a deeper level. Louv told Heartland Healing in a phone interview how the book has spawned more than just readers. It has led to action. Programs that are put together to foster children engaging with nature are vital but the real answer is on a more personal scale.
Nature: The great equalizer. “I am increasingly convinced that if we only focus on programs, as much as we need those programs to get kids outdoors — and we really need to support them a lot more — but if that’s all we do, then we won’t really make real cultural change in the long run,” Louv said.
“In addition to [institutional] programs, we need to figure out ways that people can do things for themselves and do it now and not wait for a program or funding.”
The need for a hands-on approach for families to encourage children to get out into nature led to Louv founding the Children & Nature Network (childrenandnature.org). C&NN offers information about research, networking and organizations that foster reconnecting children with nature. More importantly, there are tools available for any parent, family or group. One is the Family Nature Club. It has led to family groups across North America that join together and organize nature outings.
“There is a free Family Nature Club toolkit that families can download,” Louv said. “What these families do is arrange family playdates on weekends. Multiple families agree to show up on Saturday morning at the park. They do hikes or gardening or sometimes stream reclamation — things outdoors — multiple families doing it together. The ultimate goal is to show up and do things in nature with other families and take the kids.
“Any family can do it — single parent, any neighborhood. It’s not economically restricted — low income, upper income — it doesn’t matter. Importantly, you don’t have to wait for a program or funding. You can do it yourself. You can do it now.”
The benefits of reconnecting with nature are documented by research. The further our children are drawn away from nature, the more poorly they will do. Direct experience with nature is essential for healthy childhood development. And it doesn’t come through electronic media or video games.
Direct experience of nature is a potent therapy for ADD, depression, obesity. It can elevate test scores and grade point averages, improve critical thinking and decision making in children. A study of children with ADHD found that walks outdoors improved scores on tests of attention and concentration. And, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.
“If parents are convinced that this will help their kids get into Harvard, and I think it will, they’ll take it seriously,” he said. “Sooner or later I’m going to write an op-ed, ‘If You Want Your Kid to Get into Harvard, Tell ‘em to Go Outside.’
“That desire to reconnect with nature is in them already. It’s kind of like riding a bike. You can do it even if it’s been a while. But you have to do it.”
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Visit HeartlandHealing.com and like us on Facebook.