Skip to comments.Have Our Children Forgotten How to Play Outdoors?
Posted on 07/25/2012 7:37:51 AM PDT by rhema
Author Richard Louv believes that Americas children are now suffering from a syndrome he identifies as nature-deficit disorder. In his recent book, Last Child in the Woods, Louv suggests that the current generation of American children knows the Discovery Channel better than their own backyardsand that this loss of contact with nature leads to impoverished lives and stunted imagination.
Louv begins by recounting an anecdote involving his son, Matthew. When the boy was about ten years of age, he asked his father: Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid? The boy was honestly reflecting on his knowledge of his fathers boyhood. Richard Louv, like most of us who came of age in his generation, spent most of our playing time outdoors, building forts in the woods, exploring every nook and cranny of our yards, and participating in activities that centered in child-organized outdoor fun. Louv reflects, Americans around my age, baby boomers or older, enjoyed a kind of free, natural play that seems, in the era of kid pagers, instant messaging, and Nintendo, like a quaint artifact.
Louv argues that this represents nothing less than a sudden shift in the way Americans live, raise their children, and engage the natural world. Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environmentbut their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. Thats exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.
Looking back, Louv remembers holding to a rather simplistic view of his environment. As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forest. No one in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my field; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt path. I wandered those woods even in my dreams.
The situation is far different now. As Louv reflects, A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rainforestbut not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move. In this book, Richard Louv is articulating what many of us have been thinking. I recognize that my own boyhood is far removed from that of my son. It seems as if the world has been drastically changed. I grew up in neighborhoods that were typically suburban. Nevertheless, the woods were always nearby. For me, the woods included untamed tracts of land that were awaiting future suburban development. Nevertheless, this land was filled with trees, swamps, creeks, snakes, crawdads, and all the creeping and crawling things that used to call boys out into the woods.
Louv understands that this transformation of the way we encounter nature extends even to activities that are supposedly focused on nature itself. Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions, Louv recalls. As likely as not today, summer camp is a weight-loss camp, or a computer camp. For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wearto ignore.
In reality, many children have almost no contact with nature. They play indoors, focusing on electronic screens that produce an artificial experience. They are surrounded by creature comforts and watched over by anxious parents who are afraid that violent criminals are lurking behind every green tree. Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature, Louv observes. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities.
The larger cultural context is part of the problem. Louv notes that the academic world now seems far more interested in theoretical disciplines than in subjects like natural history and zoology. Beyond this, the biotechnology revolution threatens to blur the lines between humans and other animalsand the line between humans and machines.
Is contact with nature necessary for healthy childhood? Louv is absolutely confident that children have a deep need for contact with the natural world and its wonders. Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it, Louv insists. In his view, whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. The natural world offers children an opportunity to think, dream, touch, and play out fantasies about how he or she imagines the world. Nature brings a capacity for wonder and a connection with something real that is endlessly fascinating and largely outside human control.
Louv tells of interviewing thousands of children in the course of previous research. At one point, he received this candid comment from a fourth-grade boy in San Diego: I like to play indoors better, cause thats where all the electrical outlets are.
In the experience of all too many children, the electrical outlets are the determining reality. We have allowed our children to be so seduced by entertainment and information technologies that many believe that without electricity, experience is virtually impossible.
As one mom noted, children now spend much of their time watching. Weve become a more sedentary society, she observes. When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, we were always outdoors. The kids who stayed indoors were the odd ones. We didnt have any huge wide-open spaces, but we were always outdoors on the streetsin the vacant lots, jumping rope, or playing baseball or hopscotch. We were out there playing even after we got older.
Many of todays children show little inclination to go outdoors at all. Louv describes the environment as experienced by many American children as the third frontieran environment that is characterized by increasing distance from nature, an intellectualized understanding of the animal world, and a disconnection in the human consciousness between food and its origins.
That last point is of particular interest. Louv observes that many children have little knowledge of how food is produced. Lacking any experience with farming, livestock, and the food chain, these children simply assume that food is produced by something like a factory process. Young people may join animal rights groups without knowing anything about the actual animals involved. Louv argues that many college students become vegetarians without understanding that vegetables and vegetable byproducts are not manufactured indoors.
Richard Louv is a keen observerwatching our culture and taking careful note of how nature has become an abstraction for many of us. Why are so many Americans putting television and video screens in their vehicles? Louv observes: The highways edges may not be postcard perfect. But for a century, childrens early understanding of how cities and nature fit together was gained from the backseat: the empty farmhouse at the edge of the subdivision; the variety of architecture, here and there; the woods and fields and water beyond the seamy edgesall that was and still is available to the eye. This was the landscape that we watched as children. It was our drive-by movie.
These days, many parents allow kids to start the DVD player as soon as the car hits the interstate.
Interestingly, Louv also points to the epidemic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], suggesting that a lack of contact with nature may be, at least in part, a cause for the attention deficit and disconnectedness experienced by many young childrenespecially young boys. He suggests that a nature-deficit disorder may be behind the phenomenon now routinely diagnosed as ADHD. Louv goes so far as to suggest that a dose of real contact with the natural world may be more powerful than Ritalin in helping children to overcome patterns of hyperactivity and distraction. The same prescription would likely help parents as well.
Richard Louv is a champion of nature, and Last Child in the Woods is a powerful call for human beings to reconnect with the natural world. It would do us all a world of good to take a walk in the woods, to play outdoors, and to remember that the world is filled with a variety of flora and fauna that defies the imagination and thrills the senses.
Last Child in the Woods is a fascinating book, though at times, Louv leans toward a form of nature mysticism. Nevertheless, Christians will read this book to great profit, remembering that the biblical worldview presents an affirmation of the goodness of creation. After all, Christians know that every atom and molecule of creation testifies of the glory of God.
This is our Fathers world, and we would do well to receive this world and enjoy it, while giving praise and glory to God for the beauty and bounty it contains. We understand that nature is not an end to itself, and we affirm that the creation exists as the theater of Gods glory for the drama of redemption. All this should help Christians to remember that we honor God most faithfully when we receive His good gifts most gratefully.
Christians should take the lead in reconnecting with nature and disconnecting from machines. Taking the kids for a long walk in the woods would be a great start.
The children are not safe, even in their own back yards. The predators have more rights.
I don’t know about all the psychological gobbledegook here, but playing sandlot baseball and football, the neighborhood tree house, walking/biking around town, exploring woods and hanging out with the neighbor kids were fond fond memories. I nary see kids doing such things today, and haven noticed that for many years.
Technologies and safety reasons. The former keeps kids inside. The latter is a natural concern given all the creeps and weirdos out there, thanks to the left and its constituencies.
Great article, and it reflects my observations. It’s interesting to note that I live next door to a large Catholic family. We live in a wooded area and those kids are outside playing every day. The parents keep “apologizing” to us for the noise...but my reply is always that it is not noise to me...it’s the sound of fun. I feel sorry for those children who do not get out there, get scratched, scuffed, and sunburned...whilst building memories which will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
And, those unfortunate children who are shielded from all reality become Obamas...and we all know just how disgusting that is.
So sad. We baby boomers had such freedom as kids. I wandered through woods, swam in ponds and took home stray dogs that my mother would feed from the table. Maybe I idealize my childhood, but in some ways it was heaven.
Meh, nature, it’s overrated. When they need volunteers for space station living —I am there.
I was traveling in another state two summers ago, and as I often do when on the road I turned on the car stereo and began scanning through the AM band looking for a talk radio station. I came upon a guy speaking in a sort of rambling manner about a lot of the things this article says ... about how we don't let our kids go outside anymore, how childhood seemed so much "better" for prior generations, etc. The voice was a bit familiar, but I didn't know who it was because it wasn't someone I recognized from my own local talk radio lineup.
He also told a caller that his most valuable education as a child came in the back seat of his family's car on long trips -- just listening to his parents talk in the front seat about various things. That last one really hit home with me.
Turns out it I was hearing Glenn Beck's radio show for the first time, and I've had a much different take on him ever since then.
You are exactly right. This trend corresponds completely to the ACLU'ing of American society.
One of the missing links for the process of socializing and learning how to mature for many young men is the lost baseball game of rotation, or work up. There was a time when kids from all over the place would gather at a local ball field and take positions in the field with three players at bat. If you were put out you moved to right field and had to work your way back up. Disputes were settled on the spot. The learning process was swift.
I saw one article that coincides with what I have seen personally. Modern playgrounds bore the hell out of kids. Gone are swings, merry go rounds, jungle gyms, see saws, two story slides, etc etc.
Replaced with cheap plastic climbing platforms with a 6 foot slide on mulched rubber mats. Entertaining for all of five minutes.
Some have, some have not.
One of my neighbor kids is out all the time, with friends.
My other neighbor kid is out only as long as it takes to go from the house to the car or from the school bus to the house. The same is true of his mom. She is never, never out of doors. I suspect she frowns on the other kids because they may have offended her son somehow.
Furthermore, they have been done a great disservice by all these assinine studies that say, "Eggs are bad for you. Cheese is bad for you." No...they aren't. They contain so much a body needs when growing. Cholesterol be damned. There are things that a body needs in order to grow a healthy, fully functional immune system. Our kids have been deprived of these things that G-d in His infinite wisdom placed on this Earth for a reason.
"History shows again and again how Nature points out the folly of Man."
I remember when during Summer, parents would kick the kids out of the house during the day, and told them to only come back for Lunch and be back by dinnertime.
Good point. I've always maintained that someone (me) who grew up outside, who hunted and fished and hiked and built forts and watched otter slides and beavers work and...and...and....
Had a WHOLE lot better idea of what to worry about in the environment than some DC bureaucrat who only steps outside for photo ops.
That said, I was an imaginative kid. I could just as easily get lost in another world cutting up old magazines and making collages inside as I could outdoors. So, I think a lot depends on the kid and HOW the kid is nurtured.
I have the urge to do the same to my 11 and 13 year old boy and girl. But the boy is a Boy Scout and plays competitive baseball just about year round so I let the video game binge go a couple of days. My daughter gets up early and goes to her dressage lessons and then heads to dive team practice during the summer...Both kids fish with me on the boat regularly. Then my wife yells at me for telling them to go outside and find something to do...I think it’s all good...she’s off all summer because she teaches.
Reminds me of a story from my own childhood, when we would venture out into the New Jersey meadowlands and try to make our way across the swamps along an active railroad bed. It was a "Stand by Me" adventure on a much smaller scale, since the hike across the meadowlands didn't take more than a couple of hours.
The biggest challenge was getting past the bridge over the Hackensack River, which was a swing bridge left in the "closed" position except when barges and other boats came up and down the river. There was a watchman on duty at all times, and he was called "The Troll" (from the story about the three billy goats) because he would chase away any kids who came along trying to cross the bridge.
One day, when we were about 12 years old, it all changed. A group of us made our way out along the tracks on a hot summer day. When we got to the bridge, the "troll" simply looked out of his office in the small building next to the bridge, gave us a big smile and a wave, and didn't say anything as we crossed the bridge.
It wasn't until years later that I finally figured out what happened. By the time we were 12 years old, a group of 8-10 kids our age wandering across the swamps probably scared him.
Besides the other things mentioned I believe that a lot of the reason that many kids don’t go outside to play is because of single parents, especially single working parents. It’s just so much easier with peace of mind knowing your kids are at home playing video games instead of outside when you can’t be home to watch and keep and ear open for them in case they do get a scrape or scratch.
I would expand on his theory and say that the ability of the Left to push such idiocy as AGW is because no one goes out in nature anymore. No one experiences the real world, but are force fed the horrors of what man is doing to the environment. I know that here in Indianapolis the most vociferous and vocal young environmentalist are kids who live in the city, spend their time in coffee shops and Apple stores and wouldn’t know a butterfly from a cockroach. However, they know all about the terrible things modern life, the same life that created and powers their little computer/social media world, is doing to the fragile “ecosystem”. If you have spent your 60+ years fishing, hiking, riding your bike and gardening you have seen hot weather and cold, dry and wet, blizzards and droughts. You realize that nature works on its own plan and that we have little to do with it. If you spend your time inside wrapped in your electronic cocoon then every hot day is a sign of the apocalypse.
That’s huge, not having stay-at-home Moms, is a big factor.