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Nature Deficit Disorder: A Plague On Our House

By — Nature Deficit Disorder Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

In 2008, The National Audubon Society presented its Audubon Medal to writer and child advocate Richard Louv for encouraging more contact between children and the natural environment (http://www.audubon.org/nas/medal/). Louv has won attention around the world for his book, Last Child in the Woods, first published in 2005 and expanded in a 2008 edition. In it, Louv writes about the decreasing amount of experience in nature in the lives of American youth. The consequence of this situation, he argues, is the declining health of our population as well as other growing societal ills. He identifies the problem as “Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

Some of the data Louv cites supporting his argument comes from the University of Texas at Austin. According to the Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children (CRTIC), children in America spend more time watching television than in any other waking activity, with additional time devoted to video and computer games and to using the Internet (http://www.he.utexas.edu/web/CRITC/index.html). The fact is that the average home in the United States has more TVs than children, and kids in our country watch more TV than children any place else in the world.

Videophilia Replacing Biophilia

In a recent article in Kappan, Clare Lowell (2008) writes of “videophilia” as the tendency “to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media” and says this new love object of our kids has “virtually supplanted the need for ‘biophilia,’ or the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” (p. 219). She cites researchers Hofferth and Sandberg (2001), who found that “the proportion of 9-12 year olds who engage in outside activities such as hiking, walking, fishing, beach play, and gardening has declined by 50 percent ...(and) children’s free play time in a typical week has declined by a total of nine hours over a 25-year period” (p. 220). Hofferth and Sandberg state:

“After a full day at a school desk, the American child comes home to spend, on average, three or more sedentary hours in front of some kind of screen. What’s worse, school budgets have slashed physical education programs in cost-cutting moves that have resulted in plummeting participation in daily physical education – down to 25% from 42% 17 years ago” (p. 220).

This situation is deplorable, and for parents, the health consequences alone should raise an alarm. Researchers who have studied the relationship between children’s ability to focus and their exposure to nature through leisure activities found that children’s attentional functioning improves after play in green settings. In one study it was found that the greener an activity area, the better the children functioned, with attention deficit symptoms becoming less severe (Faber Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2001).

No Child Left Inside Act

One of the positive outcomes of the wake-up call we owe to Richard Louv is the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI) that passed the House of Representatives on Sep 18, 2008. The Senate did not consider the act and thus it has not been enacted into law. If the act is brought back in 2009, it could provide funding for schools and non-formal environmental education centers as well as authorize the creation of state environmental literacy plans. NCLI would increase our children’s opportunities to discover their personal connections to the natural world. This act should become law for the simple reason that today’s youngsters are tomorrow’s leaders. We should not want to have people as our leaders who are alienated from wild environments or ignorant of the value of nature’s ecosystem services.

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