Nature Deficit Disorder

Katherine - posted on 05/16/2011 ( 13 moms have responded )




With options for indoor recreation multiplying and becoming ever more sophisticated, parents are all too aware of how much time their kids spend parked on the couch watching TV or glued to a computer/cell phone/gaming system.

Mix these digital delights with parental fear of "stranger danger" (which often is unrealistic), and you get kids spending less and less time enjoying the great outdoors, a trend author Richard Louv dubbed "nature deficit disorder" in his influential book "Last Child in the Woods."

Louv says that in the last 30 years kids have become more plugged-in at the expense of connecting with the natural world. He argues that this could have consequences not only for physical fitness, but also for long-term mental and spiritual well-being, citing "increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, [and] feelings of not being rooted in the world."

While that may be difficult to prove, many parents still would like to see their kids get outside more. But how? Urban families might have limited natural places to explore; suburban families might have to drive to area parks; and almost every family is pressed for free time.
What This Means to You

Besides spending more and more hours on media diversions (often, up to 7 hours a day), kids are also multitasking — leaving the TV on while surfing online and fielding text messages from friends. It's up to parents to get them unplugged and outside.

Unless kids are naturally outdoorsy, convincing them to go out for some fresh air can be a struggle. So be creative. No park in your area? Even a small suburban backyard can be explored (what's under those rocks?), made more nature-friendly with some bird feeders and a birdbath, or be the setting for a family camping night.

Have to drive to get to get to anything green? Give geocaching a try. This modern treasure hunt phenomenon uses GPS coordinates to direct seekers to spots urban, suburban, and rural for small stashes of fun stuff placed by other geocachers. Engage computer-loving kids by asking them to visit one of the many online geocaching resources to choose which treasures the family should search for.

Still getting resistance? The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) suggests baby steps — work toward a daily "green hour" of unstructured play and interaction with nature by starting with a 15-minute excursion into the backyard to, for instance, identify the birds you see there.

The NWF and many other organizations offer loads of ideas for outdoor play and exploration on their websites. Make it the mission of your computer-savvy kids to go online and find some activities they'd like to try.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2010


Some good point are made. How are kids supposed to know about "stranger danger" if they aren't exposed to it as much as they should/used to be? I'm wondering what age group this study is from because my girls LOVE to be outside, so I'm assuming it's the older ones?


Krista - posted on 05/17/2011




I'm not super-outdoorsy, and have to really make efforts to get us all outside.

However, I do think that it's important for kids to be exposed to nature and to understand why it's important to protect it. I see too many kids who don't give a damn about environmental issues...not because they're callous, but because they're just so far removed from nature that it's irrelevant to them. And if these kids are going to grow up and be running the country someday, and setting the policies and laws that will protect our air, land and water, then it is vital that we instill in them an appreciation for nature.


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Firebird - posted on 05/17/2011




My daughter's always outside... actually getting her back in is the trick! I hope I finally get to take her camping up in the mountains around here. I was raised in these hills and I hate that I haven't been able to take her out there yet.

SARAH - posted on 05/17/2011




The Great Outdoors are meant to be explored! How are children going to learn about the enviroment if they are stuck inside. I worked in school programs and in a daycare before I had my son and the one thing I can tell you are kids are very lazy! Their famous line was why should I go outside and play football if I can play it on my Wii? How sad is that. This is why kids shouldn't play video games, it makes them lazy! It also doesn't help that most parents are paraniod about letting their kids be outside. I say turn all systems off get over any fears of the outside world and go outside. Go visit a national park and really experience nature at its best. Breath in the fresh air and play a game of tag in the open field! It sounds so nice I think I'm going to take my son out right now!

Katherine - posted on 05/17/2011




@ Jayce my 2yo picks up dead worms to "save" them and puts them in the grass. I can't get her to stop!!!! She loves bugs too, and by the time she picks them up they're squished ewww!

Jayce - posted on 05/17/2011




We try to get outside for at least an hour every day. We've been getting a lot of rain lately so I've taken my 3 yr old outside on worm finding missions. we scour the sidewalks for stranded worms and put them abck in the grass. He thinks it great to 'save the worms' and he loves to watch them wiggle. (dead worms are off limits)

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@Katherine i can't stand to see kids like that.I think its sad when i am out with my family,here i am with a 2 year old and 6 year old who have more manners than some other parents with there kids who are older usually than mine.I can't believe how people raise there kids these days, its terrible.I sound like a gran now..I'm only 25 but i can't stand bad manners&bad parenting.I may of had my first daughter young but its the only "mistake" i have made so far.Teaching your children good manners&respect costs nothing.

We love the outdoors.We hate to see when were out the lack of manners from others.From not being able to follow park rules etc.grrr that goes for adults without kids to..

My children have been thought so much just by being out about in nature from when they were tiny.I think its great to be out more.Beats being stuck in anyday.Good for the soul to.:-)

Katherine - posted on 05/17/2011




I agree Krista. So many kids are destructive these days. It's sad. We went to the zoo and there were duck eggs in a nest and there was a stick through one of them. Parents also let their kids frighten the animals.

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I don't enjoy being outdoors pretty much 85% of the time and have been that way as long as I can remember. I played outside because my mother made me (no lie.) I went camping exactly once in my entire life. My mother and I were invited to go to a CampFire Girls weekend with friends. I think I was maybe 10. It rained, there were latrines and that's when I decided that roughing it meant there was no room service at the hotel. Plus when I was little, I had the worst reactions to insect bites. Not allergic in life or death sense but the bites would swell up something fierce. We have pictures of me at Cape Cod with my face looking like I'd gone the distance with Ali from bites. Nature can go to heck for all I care. LOL No, I don't rmeant that completely but there's nothing wrong either with not being a nature fiend. I respect nature a lot. it just needs to stay on its side of the door while I say on my side. Yeah, if I was stranded somewhere outdoors and had to survive with a group of people, I'd be the first one to get eaten because I'm useless. ;)

My son likes being outside but also isn't a camper. Probably my fault. We moved a lot as he grew up and some of the places we lived weren't very nice so playing outside was out of the question.

As to Stranger Danger, one can get those teachings on indooor situations too, ex. the mall. It's all relative. Plus, if a kid's never outside, then being enticed into a car isn't going to happen.

Jenni - posted on 05/17/2011




Well, not my family... I'm a nature nerd, my hubby just loves the outdoors. Although we do tend to hibernate in the winter.... as soon as march comes we're out and about. Nature walks, bird watching, bug catching, in the backyard, at the park, gardening, swimming, camping. There isn't a single day in the spring/summer/fall we're not outside at *least* for an hour. On nice days, we spend the entire day outside.

I hate being cooped up in the house. yuk.

Mary - posted on 05/17/2011




Johnny - at their age, they are impervious to the rain! My 2 y/o would happily be out in a downpour, splashing away - "Look , Mommy - another puddle - YAY!". I have to admit, it took a little while for me to shed that aversion to getting needlessly wet, and re-learn the joys of splashing in puddles and making mud pies, but our very wet spring pretty much forced me into it.

....thank you, Molly! I'd forgotten how much fun that can be!

Johnny - posted on 05/16/2011




Depressing! We spend every moment we can outside, yesterday we were out for over 2 hours in the pouring rain. My daughter gets all antsy cooped.up inside like that. I don't know.hardly any couch potatos though, adults or kids.

How can people choose the boob tube over fresh air? We are messing our kids up!

[deleted account]

It seems to me that children should be naturally drawn to the outdoors. Young kids have a need to move and run, and that need can't be met by sitting indoors all day. I think that indoor kids are made that way by the way they are brought up. Of course, my kids are still very young.

Sharon - posted on 05/16/2011




Pft. not an issue here. Between running a bird ranch and hunting & fishing and hiking every spare moment we can. We don't any particular agenda, just enjoying nature.

The kids often take off on their bikes to see what can be seen in rural area. We just bought casting material so they can bring back track impressions of various wildlife. I dunno if they'll ever use it but they thought it was pretty cool when I got it.

We have an assortment of bird identification books. We live on a migratory path and the kids often run in for a book to see if they can ID whatever it is they've seen. We have a nesting scarlet fly cather? I think thats what they told me.

The kids are old enough to be let go of in the company of their oldest brother and his friends. NO ONE is messing with him and his friend who is built like Scully without the blue fur.

Anyway - I guess someone has to study the lard ass kids with lazy ass parents to prove their electronic point.

I guess our family isn't the norm.

I also guess someone has to tell the ignorant fatheads how to be parents.

Jenny - posted on 05/16/2011




Nature is a large part of our lives. We're doing our first camping trip of the year this weekend actually. No electronics allowed except my cell phone for emergencies. On a day to day basis we play in the yard a lot, the kids ride their bikes on the path (Dad and I are looking to buy our soon too). The rule is if it's nice out, you're not allowed in the house.

We have a vegetable garden to get dirty in or just look for bugs. We are fortunate to be in an area where you can be in the middle of nowhere in a fifteen minute drive from the city core and we take advantage of that. The dogs appreciate a nice hard run in the woods and I need to be out in nature to recharge my batteries too.

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