Half of the students in the US of A who live within one mile of their school opt for an internal combustion engine as their method of transportation rather than putting one foot in front of another. This frightening factoid is indicative of a disturbing, unhealthy trend for American children.
“Pediatricians nowadays see fewer kids with broken bones from climbing trees and more children with longer-lasting repetitive-stress injuries, which are related to playing video games and typing at keyboards,” writes Sally Deneen at The Daily Green. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, calls this “nature deficit disorder.” As a fourth-grader quoted in Louv’s book explains: “I like to play indoors better, because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
Nature deficit disorder is obviously not a medical term; it’s more of a social trend. The term describes “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illness.” We may be witnessing the first generation of Americans to grow up so completely out of balance with nature. The result is kids who are distracted and overweight.
American children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day indoors using computers, video games, television, and MP3 players. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) recommends that parents give their kids a “Green Hour” every day, “a time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. This can take place in a garden, a backyard, the park down the street, or any place that provides safe and accessible green spaces where children can learn and play.”
The NWF reports that children who regularly spend unstructured time outside play more creatively, have lower stress levels and more active imaginations, become fitter and leaner, develop stronger immune systems, experience fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD, and have greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment.
If Mickey Z. had a laptop, he would’ve typed this column while sitting in a tree. For now, he can be found on the web at mickeyz.net.