That is the theory put forth by Richard Louv, in his book,
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
The author claims that the amount of time that children spend indoors, or rather the lack of time that children spend outdoors is having a dramatic affect on our young, resulting in health problems ranging from physical to mental.
Some of the reasons Louv puts forth include parents encouraging children to remain indoors as an attempt to keep them safe.
These days with so much media emphasis on child abductions and the like, parents natural inclination is to keep their kids close, and indoors is considered close and safe. This is one of the main reasons Louv puts forth for the growing trend of nature deficit disorder.
The second reason is a loss of natural wooded areas in neighborhoods.
He is not talking about formal parks, as much as about natural areas, vacant lots, areas of greenbelt, that are undeveloped. I can attest to this as the area where I grew up 40 years ago had several wooded vacant lots, fields and natural, undeveloped areas. Those are all gone now, in their place, homes and apartment buildings.
These were places that were unregulated, not government run and controlled parks or recreational areas, just woods, places where children could be free to be children, run and play and spend the days outdoors.
The third reason, and perhaps, in my opinion the one that maybe the single most important reason is the computer.
Let’s face it, we all, adults and children, spend more time inside on the computer than we should. I know I do. It can be very addictive, checking email, participating on Facebook discussions, playing games, etc.
There is an allure to the internet that is hard to overcome. Children are spending more and more time indoors on the computer, video games and television. (44 hours a week)
The danger is that as our young people lose the natural attraction to being outside, future generations will spend less and less time in the great outdoors. That poses more than just health problems such as childhood obesity, a growing problem.
According to Louv a lack of exposure to nature on an ongoing basis can also lead to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems.
Scary stuff, but we see it everyday. As a young’un if I wasn’t in school, I was likely outdoors, often wreaking havoc in the neighborhood with my buddies, but outdoors nonetheless.
We spent our days roaming the vacant lots and wooded areas, probably building “forts” or playing games, often running, biking, swimming, and other outdoor activities. These days, you don’t see kids in the neighborhood nearly as often.
As kids, we knew the names of all the neighbors and they knew us, where the apple trees and fruit trees were, just waiting to be raided, where the best hills were for coasting in go-carts, or in winter, toboggans. Outdoors was our living room.
We didn’t have ipods, cell phones or computers, we had skates, hockey sticks, baseballs and gloves, fishing rods, bicycles, roller skates, and yes, even toy guns. We also had kites and footballs, little red wagons, homemade go-carts and for rainy days a collection of comic books to read under the back of the old shed or in one of our many tree forts.
That’s not to say there were no dangers, no creepy guys, or potential problems. We lived close to the railway track and it brought all kinds of danger, not just from trains, but from the bums and transients that hung around the tracks.
We learned who to avoid, where to avoid and what to do in the event of perceived trouble…usually that was run. We became quite fast runners.
I’m sure some of the neighbors looked out their windows on a summer morning and saw us heading down the sidewalk, and wondered, “Where are those young hell-yuns going today?”
We occasionally got in trouble, had some close calls, and probably the occasional tradgedy. I think we all had some stitches, more than once, in fact they were something of a badge of honor. A conversation between us would go something like:
“How many stitches did you get?”
“That’s nothing I got twenty-one in my leg last summer, wanna see the scar? Look!!”
“Neat! Did it hurt?”
But that was all part of life, part of growing up. Life is inherently risky, and oft times deadly, and we cannot and should not protect our kids from all forms of risk. For one it is impossible, for two it is silly and lastly, it doesn’t prepare them for life and it’s inherent and often deadly risks.
At the cottage it was no different. It brought an entirely new set of dangers for us to avoid and parents to worry about. We roamed the woods, we swam in the lake, we jumped off the swinging rope into the water.
We drove small boats with outboards, we crossed paths with skunks and porcupines and probably the occasional bear we may not have even known about.
We rode our bicycles on the road and we flew kites and made homemade bows and arrows, slingshots and even the occasional catapult.
As a parent myself, when my kids were young I often forgot those days and I was guilty of falling into the same parenting style of others, that is keep the kids close, inside is best, where you know where they are and what they were doing. Television was always a great babysitter, as was Nintendo.
But, whenever I thought about it, I came to my senses and kicked them outdoors to play and I am glad I did….they ran and played and yes they even got some stitches.
Website for Richard Louv:richardlouv.com