Fighting “Nature Deficit Disorder”

Lost Cove Creek campingToo many children today rarely get outside and explore the natural world. There is a variety of reasons why kids aren’t spending enough time in nature – they’re hooked up to electronics, they’ve got sports practices and music lessons, there’s too much homework, there aren’t any woods nearby anymore.

Their physical and mental health is suffering because of it. Childhood obesity, related diseases and associated health care costs are skyrocketing, in large part due to two alarming facts: kids spend on average of fifty-six hours per week interacting with electronic screens, and consume 31 percent more calories than their parents’ generation.

In his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv calls the disconnection between today’s kids and their natural surroundings “Nature Deficit Disorder.” The book cites a growing body of research indicating that providing more unstructured quality time in natural settings will provide numerous benefits to children.  As he says, “Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature—in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.”

Especially among children, experiences in nature address a host of “indoor living diseases.”  They reduce obesity, stress, depression, and symptoms of attention deficit disorder, and increase cognitive functioning, self-discipline, and emotional well being at all developmental stages.

20140630_104456North Carolina’s local land trusts have undertaken a concerted effort to bring more children and families onto lands they have protected, for hikes, outings, exercise, and learning. Whether it’s a one-acre community garden or 200-acre nature preserve, kids are benefiting from exposure to these natural places. Visit your local land trust’s website to find out about upcoming activities to reconnect your kids or grandkids with nature.

CTNC’s role is to work with statewide groups that have local affiliates (such as the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs) and local land trusts to build community partnerships that will bring more children onto the land, repeatedly.

We’ll all work together to create greenways, trails and parks; establish community gardens; promote outdoor active play; and expand outreach to get more children and families to conserved natural areas.