Nature Deficit Disorder

Guest post by Maggie, who works as a writer for a reading glasses provider specializing in computer glasses. With an educational background in science, she enjoys staying abreast of the latest health and medical news and sharing that information; her latest project, The Eye Health Guide. Outside of work Maggie spends her time trying new restaurants, staying active, and traveling.

I think it’s safe to agree that children don’t spend adequate time outdoors.

For many families, video games, computer programs, and cell phones have quickly become the preferred methods of entertainment; the days of parents coercing their children to come inside for dinner are few and far between.  One expert found the consequences of this shift towards indoor child rearing to be so severe, that he named a new condition to describe the effects.

Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) was a term (not a medical condition) coined by author Richard Louv to describe our society’s waning relationship to the environment. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Louv discusses his concerns, noting that we’ve entered a period of suburban sprawl that limits outdoor play and encourages a plugged-in culture that attracts children indoors. Remember when children used to ride their bikes or walk to school? Today, the family piles in to the SUV and treks across town to school, playing video games all the way.

Some children adapt to the increased screen-viewing time and overstimulation that comes with these “gadgets”, but those who do not often develop NDD symptoms, like attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

What’s the Deal?

So is this really something that parents should be concerned about ?

According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, today’s children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan then their parents. This fact should be enough to raise suspicions about the way we raise our children—something’s flawed.

Studies have linked NDD to behavioral problems including aggression and short-tempers, likely due to children spending increased time in confined spaces and the continual use of electronic devices. These behavioral issues can make educational progress difficult as they can lead to classroom interruptions.

Other studies have connected nature and behavior, discovering that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder need regular contact with nature to remain focused. In his book, Louv states, “We have to start looking at nature therapy” instead of, or as a compliment to, pharmaceutical drugs.

Finally, approximately 16% of U.S. children aged 6-19 are overweight or obese. The number of diagnoses of children suffering from chronic conditions—like asthma and diabetes—has grown dramatically and may lead to poor health in adulthood. Is it a coincidence that these numbers have grown as outdoor time and general physical activity have decreased?

How Do I Prevent NDD?

In the wake of this new research, some states launched programs to get students outdoors. In 2008 the US government began the “No Child Left Inside” initiative which provides information on NDD and funding for incorporating nature into education.

Parents must also make an effort to decrease their children’s screen-time and encourage them to head outdoors. A few tips include:

  • Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming (television, video games) a day.  Replace the time that would have been spent in front of a screen with an outdoor activity.
  • Reevaluate your children’s schedules. Many kids are so overscheduled with structured activities that there is no time to play outdoors.
  • Overcome “stranger danger.” Locking your kids indoors will harm their imagination and health. Controlling risk is the key. Go outdoors with your kids, but allow them explore unaccompanied.
  • Develop an appreciation for nature in your children. Teach them about our limited natural resources and start recycling in your home. Plant a garden and explain the benefits of your home-grown, organic fruits and veggies. Enroll them in nature-centered camps for a real “wilderness” experience.

Raising children to enjoy outdoor time and who appreciate the environment will ensure that your children grow to be environmentally savvy adults who will share the knowledge with their own children one day.

For more information on Nature Deficit Disorder, head to the No Child Left Inside website.

Photo by Miles.Wolstenhome, via Flickr

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