If you’re lucky, when you were growing up there was a special place outdoors where you spent a lot of time. It’s a place you hold in your heart as an adult, fond memories of a place you “owned,” where you discovered who you were and you held this natural playground world in awe.
Today’s kids aren’t so lucky, according to Richard Louv, a journalist and author of the best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods.” Too many of today’s children, he says, are suffering from what’s been dubbed the scientifically-official sounding “nature deficit disorder.”
“There are great dangers in raising children under … ‘house arrest,’ ” Louv told thousands of pediatricians today gathered in San Francisco for the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting.
The recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, Louv identified a phenomenon we all knew existed but couldn’t quite put our finger on. Since the book first came out, “Last Child” has sparked a national dialogue about kids being disconnected from nature, and his message has galvanized an international movement. According to his Web site, three years after the book came out, we have reached a tipping point, with Leave No Child Inside initiatives throughout the country.
Louv began his keynote address to the doctors by reading an email he received just a few days ago from one of their own, Dr. Mary Brown, a member of the AAP board. Dr. Brown wrote that when she began practicing in Bend, OR, 30 years ago, she never would have guessed so much of her time would be spent dealing with children suffering from obesity and depressions
“These are the maladies that happen when kids move indoors,” she wrote.
Dr. Brown said her patients have traded their friends for computers and spend their leisure time indoors instead of digging in the dirt and enjoying the “wonder” of nature.
Louv said there are many reasons children are not going outside like they used to. One is that parents are scared to let kids go … but he said “stranger danger” is more myth than reality. Kids are also spending more time in front of the TV or video games.
Part of the solution, he told the assembled physicians, is what he calls Family Nature Clubs. The idea, he said, is for families to go outside together. And for them to invite other families to go with them. He said these clubs have sprung up all over the world and are endorsed by groups that are often at odds with one another. He said the clubs don’t have to be in rural areas or outside major metropolitan areas. He said the benefits of connecting with nature can be had from a window box to Central Park to the wilds of the Ozark Mountains.
Despite the depressing statistics and anecdotes he told, Louv encouraged the pediatricians to speak positively about the future to their children. He quoted Martin Luther King as saying: “Any movement will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that we will want to go to.”
“We must be hopeful about the future,” Louv said, at times seeming near tears. “This is not about despair, this is about being more alive.”
Come on, let’s go outside.