Unplugged and Outside: Combating Nature-Deficit Disorder!
Source: Tween Parent Staff
With exceptions, we are raising a generation of children that don't embrace nature in the same way that past generations have. There are logistical reasons that are beyond our control and there are others that we can impact. In general, our tweens are distracted by activities and options that weren't around when we were children (i.e., cell phones, cable television, video games (except at a mall), abundant homework, organized after-school activities, more toys, etc.). In addition, we experience a collective heightened level of fear of stranger-danger (courtesy of a plethora of media coverage wherever we turn).
Regarding danger, it's interesting to note that the rates of violent crimes against young people are actually lower than they were 35 years ago. But, in large part, courtesy of the media-blitzing world in which we live, the perception is quite the opposite. It's as though there is a steady stream of child abductions everywhere we turn. Of course, it would be unwise not to protect our children in every reasonable way possible, but we need to try to affect a balance, being mindful not to over-protect at the risk of losing all the great benefits of our children connecting with the great outdoors.
The physical perils of limited outdoor play are obvious and newsworthy - childhood obesity and its bodily health implications are currently front and center of children's health-related challenges. On a related and shocking note, there is a concern that the current generation of children may be the first since the mid-1900's with a life expectancy lower than their parents.
In addition to physical health issues, it's easy to forget about the great value that a connection with the outdoors and outdoor play afford. Having a period of time to be outside offers a sense of peace and tranquility from the stresses of day-to-day living. It allows our pre-teens to feel the awe and wonder of nature. Being outside with unstructured play can offer an opportunity to tap into a unique sense of inventiveness and creativity. And of equal importance for our society, it will ensure that the current generation will foster a responsibility for ongoing nature awareness, conservation and preservation.
In the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv cites a study by the National Sporting Goods Association showing a dramatic decline in the past decade in such outdoor activities as swimming, fishing, bike riding (down 31 percent since 1995!). A fourth-grader quoted in Louv's book explains: "I like to play indoors better, because that's where all the electrical outlets are." The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a "screen" (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines (created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) suggests providing the opportunity for your tween to be physically active at least one hour a day through age-appropriate activities such as: hiking, bicycling, climbing trees, or going to the park. This can improve their cardio-respiratory fitness, cardio-vascular and metabolic heath, bone health and body composition.
What can parents do to reconnect their tweens with nature?
Tap into awareness campaigns such as National Environmental Education Week (April 11-17, 2010) and Earth Day (April 22, 2010) as a conversation and plan starter for a family activity, such as visit to a local park with a ball and a picnic.
Give your kids a "Green Hour" every day per the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), "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."
Encourage participation in activities that are tied with the outdoors, like Frisbee playing, kite flying, etc.
Check out from a library or purchase a book from a bookstore that focuses on outdoor activities, such as Let's Go Outside!: Outdoor Activities and Projects to Get Your and Your Kids Closer to Nature, by Jennifer Ward.
As Dale Penny, President of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) states, "I believe the most pressing issue is that young people - in this country and around the world - are losing their connection with the land and are failing to understand the value of our natural world. We must have new generations to take responsibility for solving these absolutely critical conservation issues...if a generation comes to believe that nature isn't important...how will we ensure that environmental protection laws are enacted and enforced?"