Combatting Nature Deficit Disorder: How Outdoor Activities Benefit Children and Communities
Guest Post by: Adrian Johansen, writer
You’ve likely heard that too much time spent inside isn’t good for the body or the mind. Our parents constantly told us growing up that we needed to get outside and stop spending so much time in front of the TV. Even now, the notion that nature does the body well is well-known and often spoken of.
And while it might just seem like something people say to encourage you to get outside and move your body, nature deficit disorder is a real thing. It’s not just a saying anymore that too much time inside is bad for you — a deficit of nature and not enough time outside is a legitimate medical concern.
Unfortunately, as our world becomes increasingly digital, children and communities as a whole are spending more time inside in front of screens and less time enjoying the fresh air. But too much screen and not enough green can have serious health side effects.
This means getting children and communities to connect with nature again is crucial. If we continue to let screens take over our lives, it could result in long-term health problems that will only get worse with each generation that continues to spend more and more of their time in front of screens.
What is Nature Deficit Disorder?
The term “nature deficit disorder” was originally coined in 2005 by Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network and author of several books about the importance of outdoor enrichment.
According to Louv, nature deficit disorder is used to describe what happens when humans are alienated from nature. He believes it can lead to attention disorders, diminished use of senses, higher rates of physical and mental illness, child and adult obesity, and rising rates of myopia.
While Louv initially stated that nature deficit disorder was not an official medical diagnosis, the medical community has actually started prescribing “nature” as a treatment for their patients that spend too much time indoors and in front of screens.
Since Louv’s original writings on nature deficit disorder, studies have been conducted that show that increased exposure to nature can improve health outcomes. And today, there are now official nature prescription programs across the U.S. that seek to help patients improve their well-being by getting them to spend more time outside.
Prescription Trails, founded in 2006, Park RX America, founded in 2017, and hundreds of other programs like these in at least 34 states across the country, are all examples of initiatives aimed at getting Americans outdoors.
How Spending More Time Outside Can Benefit Children and Communities
As technological advancements grow, so too does the amount of time we spend on our phones, computers, and other devices. We are even now seeking to create a metaverse, which is essentially a way for people to live a digital virtual reality life without ever needing to leave the comfort of their homes.
And while these advancements are amazing and do have many positive benefits, it is crucial that we still balance our lives with the digital and the natural world.
Too much screen time can be especially problematic for children. As children are still learning and growing, too much time inside in front of screens from an early age can severely impact them as they get older. It can teach them bad habits and behaviors, lead to attention deficit disorders, increase their risk of becoming obese, limit their imagination and creativity, and a whole host of other mental and physical issues.
Communities as well can suffer as a whole when people start spending more time inside. Nature is essential to keep communities sustainable, such as community gardens, trees to help cut down on pollution, habitats to protect local wildlife, and more. So when people start prioritizing their indoor digital lives, they neglect nature, which can hurt communities in the long run.
So, if these are all the side effects of a nature deficit, how can spending more time outside improve our lives and the lives of our children?
More time spent in nature can:
- Lower the risk of obesity
- Improve sleep habits
- Reduce behavioral problems
- Boost productivity and academic performance
- Improve imagination and innovation
- Reduce mental health issues
- Help with anxiety and stress
- Improve overall physical and cognitive health outcomes
Spending more time outside can also increase awareness of climate change and the importance of protecting nature and living more sustainably. Our own health isn’t just suffering from the way we live today, but the planet is suffering too.
And getting involved in climate activism is also good for your health. When children and communities appreciate nature and do more to help it from being destroyed, it makes them feel better about themselves, which boosts mental health.
But preventing climate change can also improve our physical health. Finding ways to reduce carbon emissions, for example, means air quality is better, and when the air is cleaner, it’s better for your lungs.
Tips to Help Children and Communities Connect More With Nature
There is much that we can do as parents or any adult that is part of a community to help combat nature deficit disorder. Simply setting a limit on screen time can certainly help and is often the go-to advice, specifically for parents dealing with children that spend too much time on their phones, tablets, and in front of the computer or TV.
But there is more that can be done to genuinely help communities and children connect more with nature again. And you never know; you might even inspire the next generation of eco-warriors in the process.
- Lead by example: The best way to inspire others is to lead by example. For parents, this means limiting their own screen time and spending time outside to show their kids that it’s important to do the same. For community members, it can look like organizing events yourself to help get more people interested and involved, like community trash cleanups. Parents can even volunteer for eco-friendly events with their kids, like tree planting and trash cleanups as well.
- Engage in more outdoor activities as a family: It’s not only important for kids to spend less time in front of screens, but it’s also important for them to have more bonding experiences with their family. Family relationships are a critical part of human development. So you can achieve relationship building and reduce screen time by planning more outdoor activities as a family, such as camping, hiking, going to the beach, or even just regular trips to the park to run and play outside.
- Start a garden: This can be a great activity for both children and communities. Starting a garden in your own backyard with your kids can help to teach them to appreciate nature and learn how to live off the land. Or, starting a community garden can get people in the community as a whole more interested in growing their own food and spending more time outside.
- Enroll in an educational camp or local nature program: To help children learn more about nature and how exciting it can be, parents can enroll them in special camps that teach them all about nature, wildlife, and sustainability. There are also often local organizations that offer classes and programs for people in the community of all ages. These programs can help people learn more about nature or get them involved in volunteer opportunities where they can both learn and actively work to protect local parks and wildlife.
There are countless things you can do, either as a parent or a community member, to help children and others in the community reconnect with nature again. And these things don’t just have the benefit of reducing the risk of nature deficit disorder, but it is also good for the planet and the health of communities as a whole.