Back in 2005, an American author named Richard Louv created the term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) in his book Last Child in the Woods. The hypothesis is that many of the problems children face today, such as obesity and attention deficit disorder, are linked to a lack of time spent outdoors.
I don’t think much of an argument can be made against the idea that kids today spend far less time out in the woods and in backyards compared to generations past. Children in America today are generally much less physically active than even their parents were, let alone going further back in time.
Louv believes part of this stems from parents becoming ever more protective of their children. Due to things like “stranger danger,” parents are more and more inclined to keep their children indoors, where they can keep a close eye on them. This is coupled with a steady decline in wilderness areas even available to children. When kids are taken or allowed to visit a place like a National Park, the first thing we tell them is they can look but don’t touch.
Now granted, times have changed but back when I was a kid, which wasn’t all that long ago, I spent endless hours in the forests near my home. It was not at all uncommon in the summer for me to be up with the sun and out in the woods as soon as I could get dressed. The neighbor kids and I built countless forts, played Army, and tracked animals all day long. We’d stop briefly for a quick lunch, and be back home again at dinner.
While NDD isn’t a recognized disorder, I think there is some merit to the theory. My children, fortunately, love to play outside. Seems like there is always a football game going in the backyard. My two younger sons particularly like finding toads and such, making little habitats for them. We go in spurts with teaching them outdoor skills too, like building snow shelters in winter or getting a fire going without matches or a lighter.
Encourage your children to get off the computer, put down the cell phone, and just get outside for a bit each day. Go for walks in forests or parks near your home. Show them how to listen to nature and decipher what it is telling them. Sure, they’ll complain about it now but they’ll thank you later.