Nature deficit disorder?
Even the National Trust are doing it now- inventing classifications of mental illness.
In fact it was a US based writer Richard Louv who first began to use the words ‘nature deficit disorder’ to describe a growing dislocation between children and nature.
The NT are quoting findings from a Natural Childhood Report by naturalist and author Steven Moss, who suggests that a steady stream of surveys have highlighted how a generation of children are losing touch with the natural world. The NT are planning to launch a consultation into what we all think about this.
The trust argues that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world and the growth of what it calls the “cotton wool culture” of indoor parental guidance impairs the capacity of children to learn through experience.
It cites evidence showing that:
- children learn more and behave better when lessons are conducted outdoors
- symptoms of children diagnosed with ADHD improve when they are exposed to nature
- children say their happiness depends more on having things to do outdoors more than owning technology.
Yet British parents feel more pressure to provide gadgets for their children than in other European countries. This from here;
The statistics reveal that things have changed dramatically in just one generation:
- Fewer than ten per cent of kids play in wild places; down from 50 per cent a generation ago
- The roaming radius for kids has declined by 90 per cent in one generation (thirty years)
- Three times as many children are taken to hospital each year after falling out of bed, as from falling out of trees
- A 2008 study showed that half of all kids had been stopped from climbing trees, 20 per cent had been banned from playing conkers or games of tag
Authority figures and layers of bureaucracy have combined with a climate of ‘don’t do that’ to create an environment where fewer and fewer children play in the outdoors. This has led to a situation where kids having fun in the outdoors are painted as showing signs of anti social behaviour.
The research shows that capturing children before they enter the teenage years is crucial with the research clearly showing if you get kids hooked before they reach twelve years old, you’ll create a lifelong passion for the environment.
It has to be said that there are sceptics. Some see the NT study as nothing more than a slightly sensationalist money raising campaign, aimed at adding another layer of guilt/concern on to middle class parenting. Others have questioned the science- writing in the Guardian, Aleks Krotosk had this to say;
…public discourse needs to be balanced and critical. Using emotive language such as “electronic addictions” and “the extinction of experience”, as this report does, undermines the so-called “science” that the National Trust is presenting in this document. Scientific claims are backed up by evidence. Preferably primary sources – not press releases.
Researchers have spent more than two decades untangling the web’s effects on our lives, and have discovered where it disrupts our existing social practices, and where it doesn’t. This is indeed an important issue for public scrutiny, but the method of wrapping up a half-truth in a lab coat and presenting it as an evidence-based review of the literature is as insidious as a PR company commissioning an academic researcher to find a predetermined outcome.
Evidence-based argument is the hallmark of the lively and informed debates we as a population have engaged in since the reformation, and is the cornerstone of an engaged and critical society. The 27-page press release published by the National Trust that describes a made-up disorder is only intended to inspire a reaction and fuel uncertainty. Rather than open up debate, this kind of thing serves to close it down. And that is just not scientific.
She has a point. People said listening to the wireless would make us deaf and watching TV would turn our brains to jelly, and all the changes brought about by the internet on the way we humans interact may indeed considerable but are also irreversible. We are on the brink of one of those paradigm shifts and it is difficult to know where it will all lead, but there is no going back.
However, many of will read the words of the NT’s National Childhood Report and feel that it is saying something important. It may be rather difficult to scientifically quantify, but we instinctively feel that our disconnection with wild places might yet be a huge mistake.
It might be a huge mistake because in losing our place in the natural order of things, we lose something of ourselves.
It might also be a huge mistake because in losing our connection with the natural order of things, we might also be part of the destruction of everything.
When I was small, my mother took me camping. I found a dead squirrel and it was so lovely that I sneaked it into my tent, along with a lot of still alive fleas. I swam in a river for hours and ended up with stomach ache from something I swallowed. I climbed trees and had to be rescued.
We also joined a rambling club. I still remember those long trudges through Derbyshire, almost too tired to speak.
These experiences, good and bad, never left me. They became the platform for my own adventures as an adult. I hope for the same for my own children. And theirs.
I believe these are reasons for optimism.