Children in a Nature-Deprived Childhood

With the increase in supervised and competitive activities, some important elements of childhood, like unstructured time and time spent in nature, have decreased dramatically. Children spend less time playing and interacting with their natural world “A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rainforest – but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move” (Louv, p. 1-2, 2008). As children connect more with images and activity on screens, they are more disconnected from their natural surroundings. A growing group of researchers believe that this disconnection has massive implications for human health and child development including and increase in mental afflictions, obesity, and sleep deprivation (Pang, 2013).

Dr. Richard Louv has written on this subject with research and passion, authoring nine books, including Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age.  He is also co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization helping build the movement to connect today’s children and future generations to the natural world. Louv coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder® which has become the defining phrase of this important issue.

Louv shares research that when children spend less time in the natural world this impacts the broadness of their human experience as their senses narrow and natural becomes an abstraction (2008). Essential to this look at the changing nature of childhood is how the remarkable research that shows the link between time spent in nature and health of mind body and spirit (Louv, 2008). So as our children spend less time in nature, their overall physical and emotional health is in decline.

In 2013 a three-year research project by the RSPB, showed that according to the conservation group's scoring system, four out of five children in the UK are not adequately "connected to nature"(Vaughn, 2013).  The results of the study also suggest that girls have a better connection with nature than boys. (Vaughn, 2013). The study is considered groundbreaking in that there had been little robust scientific attempt to measure and track children’s connection to nature and that now the problem might receive the attention it deserves (Vaughn, 2013).

Additionally, filmmaker David Bond produced a film called, “Project Wild Thing” exploring why children spend less time playing outdoors and interacting with nature. His research in London schools showed children spoke of having "other priorities" than the outdoors” (Vaughn, 2013). He thinks this study is important because children’s interaction with nature is finally being measured and according to this measurement system there is a problem and that it will probably get worse. He also shared the culprits of decreased nature time as increased screentime, misplaced fears over "stranger danger,” but also the more fundamental commercialization of childhood (Vaughn, 2013).