In need of nature

Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is not a medical condition. It is instead a term that describes a lack of connection and relationship with the natural environment that many children are experiencing these days.

As a parent of two toddler boys I instinctively know the importance of getting them outside as often as possible, and a rainy weekend day is really my worst nightmare.  My children are by far the happiest and most content when they are outside exploring, playing freely and running amok to their heart’s content.

But this all changes as our children become older, with television and computer games replacing the innocent joys of making mud cakes. And we don’t necessarily want them to jump on their bicycles to meet their friends at the nearest park because it just doesn’t feel safe.

We tend to not fight for our children’s right to become - and remain - connected with their natural world. This all makes sense, but what is it costing our children?

A feel for nature

A study conducted by professor Nancy Wells, confirmed that unless a child has early and frequent exposure to nature before the age of 11, they will not likely develop an empathic attitude toward the environment as an adult. It is through free play and exploration that a love of nature is first rooted in our children’s psyche, and not through rigid and structured outdoor sporting activities.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (Workman Publishing, 2008) and the person who first introduced the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder, claims that largely visually-focused activities like television watching and video games are desensitising children’s other senses of smell, touch, hearing and taste, ultimately leaving their survival skills underdeveloped.

And if you could perhaps convince yourself that your child doesn’t really need well developed instinctive survival skills, then evidence of NDD contributing to higher rates of physical and emotional illness might just do the trick.

Some nature-rific facts

Just in case this is all starting to sound a bit wishy-washy, here are a handful of the countless research studies that link development and wellness to nature.

•    Our children will the first generation at risk of having shorter lifespans than their parents, and leading a sedentary lifestyle is a major cause says the New England Journal of Medicine, resulting in the increase of chronic childhood diseases such as obesity, asthma, and attention deficit disorder, according to this report.
•    Contact with nature and the outdoors have proven to reduce stress in children say Nancy M. Wells and Gary W. Evans in their article Nearby Nature.
•    Studies from the University of Illinois confirm that the greener the setting the less severe the symptoms of a child’s attention disorder, resulting in better functioning outdoors than in.
•    Living in an area with more trees reduces the incidence of childhood asthma says the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
•    The American Academy of Paediatrics promotes the fact that free play, like the kind found outdoors, aids in physical, emotional, cognitive and social development in children.

Instilling in our children a love of nature and the environment is not just healthy for them and their development; it is also a matter of parental social responsibility.  Make the choice to raise children who are aware of, who care about, and who will fight for the love of nature.

How much do your children interact with nature?

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