Does Your Child Have Nature Deficit Disorder?

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Does Your Child Have Nature Deficit Disorder?

Is your child suffering from not spending enough time in nature? Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, asserts that many modern children do. In fact, other medical and mental health experts and a growing body of researchers are also concerned about how little time our children are spending in the great outdoors. Why should parents be aware of this? What are some of the problems that result from nature deficit and what can we do to prevent it in our children?

First let’s define the problem. As Louv sees it, when our kids spend less time in natural environments, the results are what we’re seeing more and more of in recent years: weight issues in children, attention problems, depression, anxiety and stress. According to Louv, anecdotal evidence as well as several studies point to a connection between the increasing amount of time our kids spend indoors doing more sedentary activities, and emotional, health and social problems.

To be fair, many parents are justifiably concerned about safety. But this comes at a price. Many of us who are parents today remember spending much of our own childhoods out of doors, even in less than perfect weather! Long walks through the woods with friends, bike rides through the neighborhood feeling the wind in our hair, day dreaming for hours on the tire swing under the tree, these were the stuff memories were made of. Our kids today are often shuttled from one activity to another, most of these taking place in structured environments, and many of them indoors. What are our kids missing out on?

The research points to several things. One is that spending time in nature can help relieve stress. It also helps kids focus more. One study conducted by the University of Illinois found that children with attention problems can focus better after outdoor activities. Other studies point to increased cognitive ability among kids who have access to natural settings and display fewer attention lapses (such as interrupting, not listening and distraction). Also important are the findings that unstructured play (the kind that takes place when kids roam the great outdoors) leads to enhanced emotional and social development. They get better at problem solving and getting along with other kids. Not to be discounted is the fact any Mom can testify to: that getting the kids outdoors makes them calmer, helps them eat better as well as sleep better!

So how do we make sure our kids are getting enough time outside, especially if we don’t live in a rural area? One way is to structure recreation around nature. Spending time in parks, taking walks on nature trails, hiking, mountain climbing, visiting lakes, rivers and beaches and picnics outdoors are some ideas. Even in urban areas you probably have access to city parks and botanical gardens. Build a treehouse in your backyard if you can. Encourage your kids to go outside and play as much as possible. Make it mandatory if they don’t seem to enjoy it at first. Like eating vegetables, they often will start to love it with time. If it’s not safe for your kids to play outside without supervision, then spend time outside with them. Go for walks outside as a family. Eat some of your meals outdoors if weather permits. Involve the kids in outdoor chores like yard work or hanging laundry. The benefits will likely be obvious to you after a period of time and are worth the extra effort.

Check Out:Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder