RESTORING THE LINK BETWEEN NATURE AND YOUNG PEOPLE
30 July 2021
Young people are spending more and more time indoors, and it's taking a toll on their health and wellbeing. Author and journalist Richard Louv created a term for this modern phenomenon: nature-deficit disorder. Louv and other researchers are not just highlighting the problems our young people face; they are also providing us with simple solutions. As young people are drawn indoors by the lure of screens, outdoor education professionals recognise the vital role nature plays for students of all ages as they strive to restore the critical link between the natural world and Australia's youth.
"The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need." Richard Louv.
WHAT IS NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER?
The term nature-deficit disorder was introduced in 2005 with the publication of Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. The book is Louv's analysis of how contemporary society has become increasingly alienated from the natural world; he examines the physiological, environmental, social, psychological and spiritual implications this isolation is likely to have for our young people.
Louv, who has written for The New York Times and Orion Magazine, presents scientific research and expert observations supporting the notion time spent in nature is essential to healthy human development. He argues our children's diminished connection with nature is partially to blame for their struggles with:
Diminished use of the senses
A rising rate of myopia
Vitamin D deficiency
Attention difficulties including attention-deficit disorder
Impaired social skills, including increasing violence
Mental health issues, including depression
All of these have risen to what Louv considers epidemic levels. According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, today's young people may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Childhood has moved indoors, and young people are paying the price. One recent study described today's young people as the 'backseat generation.' These are the young people escorted by car to and from school, to after-school activities, sports practices and other structured events.
For this new generation of young people, direct experiences with nature - whether in the backyard or the bush - are slowly being replaced by indirect experience through electronic media; this means young people are cut off from experiencing the world directly, contributing to their growing inability to relate to others' life experiences.
Young people are in danger of losing their capacity for empathy and opportunities to learn about and explore the world; these losses are now being examined as potential sources of stress and anxiety and are thought to contribute to rising cases of depression and mental health concerns in young people.
HOW YOU CAN HELP PREVENT NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER
Louv suggests increasing young people’s exposure to nature-based experiences and education may provide a remedy for nature deficit disorder.
Physicians and psychologists share Louv's sentiment. Therapist Michael Gurian says, "Our brains are set up for an agrarian, nature-oriented existence that came into focus 5,000 years ago. Neurologically, human beings haven't caught up with today's overstimulating environment. Getting kids out in nature can make a difference."
Research has shown access to green space is important to the mental wellbeing, overall health and cognitive development of young people. Students don’t even necessarily need to be immersed in a natural environment to feel the positive effects of nature. High school students who simply have views of nature from their classroom have lower criminal behaviour levels, and even adding plants into a classroom has been shown to increase friendliness and reduce sick days and misbehaviour.
As the gap between young people and nature widens, schools are uniquely positioned to respond to the growing concern around nature deficit disorder. Louv believes schools shouldn't just teach about nature in the classroom; they should be sending kids out into nature. He argues these experiences should not be considered "a little break from school", but a vital part of their learning.
OFFSET THE IMPACTS OF NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER AS PART OF YOUR OUTDOOR EDUCATION PROGRAM PLANNING
Schools can look to outdoor education to support them in creating real opportunities for their students to engage with nature as an essential part of their learning experience.
The Outdoor Education Group’s programs are a practical and effective way for schools to promote student wellbeing and help prevent nature deficit disorder. Our outdoor education programs are carefully designed to reconnect students with the benefits of the natural world through authentic and varied outdoor activities.
The Outdoor Education Group provide something for all young people by engaging them in meaningful interactions, spontaneity, discovery, exploration and risk-taking in dynamic outdoor learning environments.
The importance of nature's role in creating and maintaining healthy childhood development is highlighted in The Australian Curriculum: "The development of positive relationships with others and with the environment through interaction with the natural world can be facilitated through outdoor learning. These relationships are essential for the wellbeing and sustainability of individuals, society and our environment."
One of the long-term effects of nature-deficit is the loss of future environmental stewards. Sir David Attenborough has said, "No one will protect what they don't care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced." Our future depends on ecologically literate citizens who will have a sense of ownership and stewardship of the earth. Outdoor education programs create awareness and opportunities for young people to connect with the natural world, allowing them to explore the consequences of their choices.
The Outdoor Education Group provide varied programs designed to strengthen and nurture students' declining connection to the natural world. In a fun and fully supported environment, your students connect with themselves, each other and the natural world around them.
Our programs inspire your students to be happy, healthy and courageous young adults who are connected with nature and feel determined to explore it, share it and preserve it.