We worry about ‘nature deficit’ in kids – but how about grown-ups too?

Image of bored office workerE.O. Wilson coined the term “biophilia”  to describe humans’ deep connection to nature (my words – he calls it our “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes”). Ironically, I am most reminded of how potent biophilia is when I’m most disconnected from nature – say, in a windowless conference room or a dark school corridor. I suppose these environments are thought to help focus us on the task at hand by not allowing distractions from the outside world.

But I believe the opposite is true – being disconnected from sunlight, greenery, the sky, can be almost painful. And yet adults and more importantly, kids, are increasingly disconnected from nature.

A few statistics from the Children & Nature Network bear this out:

  1. Children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation;
  2. Children spend more of their diminishing free time in structured activities: children’s discretionary time (i.e., time not spent in school, child care, etc.) declined 12% (7.4 hours a week) from 1981 to 1997 and an additional 4% (2 hours) from 1997 to 2002/3;
  3. Families have less leisure time and are spending more of it indoors. Since 1988, per capita visits to U.S. national parks have declined by about 20%;
  4. Americans spend 170 minutes a day watching TV and movies, 9 times as much as they do on physical activities Children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with electronic media;
  5. A British study found that children can identify 25 percent more Pokemon characters than wildlife species at eight years old.

Research from the Red Rock Institute finds that kids spend on average only a half hour per week playing outdoors, compared to 45 hours per week with electronic media.

Why is this happening? Well, there are many reasons, according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. We work more hours than we used to, children have more homework and more structured activities, such as organized sports, than in the past. We live in a more auto-oriented landscape, where the spontaneous interaction with the outdoors from a walk to work or school or the store is much less common. And parents are more afraid of letting their children explore.

We need to give our kids the contact with nature that we grown-ups were allowed – and then give ourselves the same freedom again too!

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