Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Nature Deficit Disorder?

I know I spend quite a bit of time writing here on my blog about my free-range childhood and how it affects the way I am raising my own boys.

Lately I have been noticing how many parents define their children as "on the spectrum" or talk about their children being depressed and anxious.  Parents (and the media) often blame vaccines, better detection methods, preservatives in food, exposure to hazardous daily chemicals, video games, pollution, bullies, homework/school, etc.

At this point in time it appears that no one really knows what is going on, but everyone has their personal theories.  But sometimes I wonder if one of the contributing factors might be due to something children stopped doing?

I look back at my childhood and in many ways there was less regulation with foods, pollution, and chemicals than there are now.  We ate mounds of food dyes and sugar (Kool-aid, Baby!), preservatives, nitrates, margarine, non-organic dairy, and grain-fed beef. We used Off mosquito repellent with high levels of Deet all summer long and we didn't have children versions of sunscreen.  When I had a bad cough my mom gave me a hot toddy with whiskey, honey, and lemon.

When we visited friends and neighbors we often were surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke and many moms put Pepsi and Coke in their baby bottles.  My mom cleaned the house using cleaners that were not "child-safe" and we sprayed roach and ant spray with abandon (we lived in the woods).

However, we did spend most of our free time running around outdoors.  Mom never let us sit inside for hours playing Intellivision or watching TV.  Nope, she kicked us outside pretty much every day after school and on weekends, rain or shine.  And we played with neighbor kids who also weren't allowed to sit inside.  We would get bored and would have to entertain ourselves.

So what is going on with today's children?

The biggest change I have witnessed since I was young is children are indoors more.  There is a neighborhood behind us with beautiful big houses on very small lots.  Many of the yards are fully decked out with trampolines, pools, outdoor kitchens, and elaborate swing sets. We live in Texas so other than a few months in summer where it is really hot, we have perfect outdoor weather.

But these backyards are empty.  I will walk around this neighborhood on a beautiful weekend afternoon and see no one outside.

There is a row of houses that back up to the Greenbelt drainage area where my boys always play, and most of the houses backing up to it have wood privacy fences.  A few of them, like this one pictured, has a metal fence.  But as you can see, all the blinds are down and no one is outdoors.  I know they have kids because of the trampoline, but I have never seen anyone outside in this yard.

Here is the view from their backyard.  Grassy manmade hills surrounded on one side by a wooded creek.

It is a fairly large area and we often see deer and rabbits feeding on the grass.  Plenty of room to run and explore.   This green area with a creek, shade, and hills should be a child paradise.

It is a gorgeous afternoon, but do you notice the lack of people?

We walk here daily during the afternoons and weekends when kids are off from school.  This Greenbelt is surrounded by a neighborhood with hundreds of houses, many owned by young families with several children.  Yet I almost never see any kids out here playing. We walk around the neighborhood on the nice wide sidewalks and see almost no one out and about, and we don't hear the sound of children playing in the fenced back yards.

Where are all of the children?

If you are interested in reading some theories about what might be happening to kids of this generation, I can point out a few really good books l that I enjoyed reading.  You might want to check out Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, and  Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.

What do you think might be a contributing cause to the well-documented issues many children and families are facing these days?

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  1. Very interesting ideas!

    I think that the kids of our generation also had many of these same issues, they just went undiagnosed (especially when it came to learning disabilities). Most of them ended up in the 'slow classes' when effectively they were as intelligent as the rest of us, they just didn't handle school work very well.

    I do agree with you that children these days spend WAY too much time indoors. Strapped to their electronic device of the hour, they are certainly not burning of their energy at outdoor play like we used to and it is very possible that has affected them in some way.

    I enjoyed reading your theories.

    Lisa D.

  2. I simply could not agree more with you!

    My childhood sounds exactly like yours, and yet here we are, and doing quite nicely, if I must say so . :-)

    Great post!!

  3. I think the smarter ones where the ones who didn't do so well in school. They were bored to death! ;-)

    I agree Lisa! Hopefully this next generation of kids will do as well as we did.