Our natural world is receding from human experience, but the physical and mental benefits associated with communing with nature remain as important as ever. Declining interest in the outdoors has been described as “nature deficit disorder by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Children especially are experiencing a nature deficit disorder.
The amount of time children and young adults spend outside is in sharp decline, and demographic trends indicate the great outdoors is becoming less relevant for more people, statistically speaking.
More children spend less time outdoors than any generation in history, which suggests future generations may become less concerned with environmental issues, as society becomes increasingly more sedentary and accustomed to living mostly indoors. Staring at electronic screens is supplanting outdoor-oriented lifestyles for many kids.
Demographic trends only compound this disconnection from nature and outdoor recreational activities, because non-whites generally spend the least time outside, while they also represent the fastest growing population groups.
Lifelong habits are formed in childhood and by young adults. Nowadays youth and young adults are spending more time inside occupied with computers, video games and social media, but much less time outside.
Numerous studies have documented how connecting with the natural world improves quality of life, concentration, and self-esteem, and promotes personal and spiritual growth. Outdoor activities help reduce obesity and the risk of ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis. Spending time in nature is also known to reduce depression and relieve stress.
Ironically, a sense of disconnection appears to be growing, as society becomes more connected in digital world experiences and less present in natural world environments.
Only about one-quarter of children play outdoors on a daily basis, compared to 75% only a generation ago. Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy found that 88% of kids go online daily and 69% play video games daily. Children playing outdoors typically do so for less than one hour, compared to spending 7 hours daily using electronic media, according to the National Recreation and Park Association.
The present generation of children devote as much as 50% less time to hiking, fishing, walking, gardening and playing on the beach, compared to previous generations, according to Children & Nature Network, an organization that promotes outdoor recreation.
The Outdoor Foundation has determined that the number of boys participating in various outdoor activities has generally fallen or remained stagnant in recent years, although girls are spending more time outdoors.
Fortunately, many people still do appreciate and spend time connecting with nature to their benefit, which doesn’t necessarily mean trekking up a mountain. Trees, flowers and the sky are all around us, but apparently electronic distractions are pulling people inward, causing them to literally not look at the larger world that surrounds us. It doesn’t have to be that way.