My book club recently read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The book explores the effects of our society’s increasingly limited exposure to the natural world – particularly on children and their development. Louv uses the made-up term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the condition many American kids experience today of lacking contact with nature. Much of this is related to the rise of technology in all aspects of our life, but Louv cites numerous other factors that are worthy of consideration.
While the premises of the book weren’t new to me, I found the book to be well worth reading and Louv’s data findings insightful. Some direct quotes:
Studies compared preschool children who played ever day on typically flat playgrounds to children who played for the same amount of time among the trees, rocks, and uneven ground of natural play areas. Over a year’s time, the children who played in natural areas tested better for motor fitness, especially in balance and agility.
A 2003 survey, published in the journal of Psychiatric Services, found the rate at which American children are prescribed antidepressants almost doubled in five years; the steepest increase – 66 percent – was among preschool children.
(Researchers) found that children with more nature near their homes received lower ratings than peers with less nature near their homes on measures of behavior conduct disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Why do so many Americans say they want their children to watch less TV, yet continue to expand the opportunities for them to watch it?
How much of the richness of life have (parents and children) traded for their daily immersion in indirect, technological experience?
As the young grow up in a world of narrow yet overwhelming sensory input, many of them develop a wired, know-it-all state of mind. That which cannot be Googled does not count.
Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle maintains that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10% the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorder by age 7.
Researchers at the University of Maryland found that, between 1981 and 2003, children during the typical week lost over nine hours of discretionary time (that is hours not spent in school, childcare, and so forth). They spent less time in unstructured indoor and outdoor play; computer use doubled. Time-analysis studies done at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research showed that from 1981 to 1997, the amount of time American children up to age twelve spent studying increased by 20%.
In 2003, the average American devoted 327 more hours to electronic pursuits than he or she did in 1987. (Pergams & Zaradic)
We need to draw an important distinction between a constructively bored mind and a negatively numbed mind. Constructively bored kids eventually turn to a book, or build a fort, or pull out the paints… Constructive boredom can often increase children’s openness to nature.
My husband and I are outdoor-oriented people and seek to immerse ourselves and generally our family in the natural world as much as possible. Still, the book reimnded me just how much our society and world are losing by our increasingly limited experience with nature. I thought about the Bible, the Psalms especially, and the rich language of nature as related to God. “The earth is the Lord and everything in it… for he founded it upon the seas and established it on the waters,” wrote King David in Psalm 24. Or consider Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”
Louv’s book reinforces what we who follow the Word already know: the earth is a gift from God and reflects his beauty. We should be out there enjoying it!