Cultural changes are often imperceptible, occurring slowly over generations and accumulating through smaller, seemingly unrelated events. We rarely think of ourselves living through these changes. Yet looking back, the past is clearly different from the present. Even the way children live, learn, and play today compared to a generation ago demonstrates a subtle evolution.
Today, children are spending more time indoors and less time engaging with nature. There are several childhood crises in place, two well-known ones being ADHD and childhood obesity. A connection can be observed between these childhood issues in today’s society and the lack of kids interacting outdoors with nature. Over time, a recognizable pattern has developed with our youth that has begun to alter their behavior and consciousness.
In author Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods,” he presents a persuasive case for the importance of nature to a child’s physical and emotional well-being, while also describing today’s youth’s disconnect as a ‘nature-deficit disorder.’ Recently, more and more research has been conducted to connect various childhood and adolescent issues to their sedentary lifestyles.
Although, Louv calls this a ‘disorder’, it should not be taken in the sense the word is commonly used in popular culture. It is not a genetic disorder, nor does it imply any particular deficiency on the part of the individual. Rather, this ‘disorder’ is describing the alienation between human and nature that has developed. This relationship has existed since the beginning of time, enriching our lives as the human race has evolved over hundreds of generations, yet it is now being threatened to make us all poorer if it continues to degenerate.
The cure for this is very simple and a mission GEF pursues: reintroducing our youth to nature. Not only introducing nature in the classroom through hands-on activities or lessons, but in children’s everyday life as well. We must allow children to run around the woods, jump streams, play with animals, and get covered in mud. Along with technology, other areas of media have led to many parents becoming full of fears of crime, injury, bugs, plants, and predators. These media triggered fears have without a doubt made our children safer, but what is the true cost and what are our children missing out on?
GEF supplies numerous free programs, rife with activities and resources to help engage children with the environment, but even just getting kids to play outside more often would be beneficial. By parents, teachers, and the community all working together, less technology and fear can be holding back the essential relationship between the youth and nature.