Kids And Nature: What Is Nature Deficit Disorder And How To Prevent It

By: Teo Spengler

Gone are the days when leisure time for kids usually meantgoing outside getting into nature. Today, a child is far more likely to playgames on smart phones or computers than run in the park or play kick-the-can inthe backyard.

The separation of kids and nature has resulted in a number of issues lumped loosely together under the expression “nature deficit disorder.” What is nature deficit disorder and what does it mean for your kids?

Read on for information about how a lack of nature injures kids and tips on how to prevent nature deficit disorder.

What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

If you haven’t read anything about this issue, you arelikely to ask, “what is nature deficit disorder?” If you have read about it,you may wander, “is nature deficit disorder real?”

Modern kids spend less and less time in the great outdoors,and the physical and emotional toll it is taking on their health is termednature deficit disorder. When children aren’t exposed to nature, they loseinterest in it and their curiosity about it. The effects of nature deficitdisorder are detrimental and sadly very real.

Effects of Nature Deficit Disorder

This “disorder” is not a medical diagnosis but a termdescribing real consequences of too little nature in a child’s life. Researchestablishes that kids are physically and mentally healthier when they spendtime in nature, including the garden.

When their lives are characterized by a lack of nature, theconsequences are dire. The use of their senses diminishes, they have a hardtime paying attention, tend to put on weight, and suffer from higher rates ofphysical and emotional illnesses.

In addition to the effects of nature deficit disorder on thehealth of a child, you have to factor in the effects on the future of theenvironment. Research shows that adults who identify themselves asenvironmentalists had transcendent experiences in the natural world. Whenchildren are not engaged with nature, they are not likely to take active stepsas adults to preserve the natural world around them.

How to Prevent Nature Deficit Disorder

If you are wondering how to prevent nature deficit disorderin your children, you’ll be happy to hear that it is entirely possible. Kidsprovided with the chance to experience nature in any manner will interact andengage with it. The best way to get kids and nature together is for parents toreengage with the outdoors as well. Taking children out for hikes, to thebeach, or on camping trips is a great way to start.

“Nature” doesn’t have to be pristine and wild to bebeneficial. Those that live in cities can head to parks or even backyard gardens.For instance, you could starta vegetable garden with your kids or createa natural playground for them. Just sitting outdoors looking up at theclouds passing by or admiring a sunset can bring a sense of happiness and peaceas well.

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Nature deficit disorder

Nature-deficit disorder is the idea that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, and the belief that this change results in a wide range of behavioral problems. This disorder is not recognized in any of the medical manuals for mental disorders, such as the ICD-10 [1] or the DSM-5. [2]

Richard Louv claims that causes for Nature-deficit disorder include parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of electronic devices. [3]

The idea has been criticized as a misdiagnosis that obscures and mistreats the root problems of how and why children do not spend enough time outdoors and in nature. [4] [ further explanation needed ]

Research findings and data from the National Library of Medicine

PubMed articles

The Relationship Between Green Space and Prosocial Behaviour Among Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review

The plausible role of nearby green space in influencing prosocial behaviour among children and adolescents has been studied recently. However, no review has been conducte …

Viewing nature scenes positively affects recovery of autonomic function following acute-mental stress

A randomized crossover study explored whether viewing different scenes prior to a stressor altered autonomic function during the recovery from the stressor. The two scene …

Temporal dynamics in viral shedding and transmissibility of COVID-19

We report temporal patterns of viral shedding in 94 patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and modeled COVID-19 infectiousness profiles from a separate sample of 77 …

Role of fomites in SARS transmission during the largest hospital outbreak in Hong Kong

The epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) had a significant effect on global society in the early 2000s and the potential of its resurgence exists. Studies …

How to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder

Parents, educators and caregivers must take responsibility for preventing the development of NDD in their children.

Make a conscious effort to decrease screen-time. Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming (television, video games) a day. Replace the time that would have been spent in front of a computer screen or television with an outdoor activity.

Reevaluate your child’s schedule. Many kids are booked solid with structured activities, leaving no time to play outdoors. If you must actually schedule outdoor time on the family calendar, then do so. When time is limited, keep in mind your own backyard will suffice for some quality nature interaction.

Temper your fear of “stranger danger.” Constantly worrying that your child will be abducted will not only suck-up your energy, but locking your kids indoors will harm their imagination and health. Controlling risk is the key. Go outdoors with your kids while letting them explore unaccompanied.

Research nature-centered camps. Many summer camps aim to entertain children outdoors for the majority of the day and will give your kids a chance to do things they wouldn’t normally get to do—like canoe, hike and camp. If your child is interested in computer or chess camp, try to find a camp that also offers unstructured outdoor play time.

Interaction with nature, even something as trivial as a houseplant, can have a substantial effect in reducing a child’s stress levels. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study concluded that, “exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be wildly effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children”.

Encourage the development of an appreciation for nature in your children. Teach them about our limited natural resources and start a recycling program in your home. Plant a garden and explain the benefits of your home-grown, organic fruits and veggies. Beginning environmental education early will ensure that your children grow to be environmentally savvy adults who will share the knowledge with their own children one day.

Simply walking with your children is a great way to be outside you can go on a scavenger hunt with older children, or just walk and talk about what you see with younger children. It is a great way to connect with your child, take in nature and get some exercise.

I coined the phrase to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from nature and it is not meant to be a medical diagnosis (although perhaps it should be), but as a way to talk about an urgent problem that many of us knew was growing, but had no language to describe it. The term caught on, and is now a rallying cry for an international movement to connect children to rest of nature. Since then, this New Nature Movement has broadened to include adults and whole communities.

Although human beings have been urbanizing, and then moving indoors, since the introduction of agriculture, social and technological changes in the past three decades have accelerated the human disconnect from the natural world.

Among the reasons: the proliferation of electronic communications poor urban planning and disappearing open space increased street traffic diminished importance of the natural world in public and private education and parental fear magnified by news and entertainment media.

Since 2005, the number of studies of the impact of nature experience on human developed has grown from a handful to nearly one thousand. This expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that the nature-deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” and to a devaluing of independent play. Nonetheless, we believe that society’s nature-deficit disorder can be reversed.

Recent studies focus not so much on what is lost when nature experience fades, but on what is gained through more exposure to natural settings, including nearby nature in urban places.

Abstracts to many of these studies, often linked to the original research, can be found at the Children & Nature Networks Online Research Library. Following the publication of “Last Child in the Woods,” the Children & Nature Network was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working to reconnect children with nature. We believe more research is necessary to better define the influence of nature experiences on human development. But as Dr. Howard Frumkin, Dean of the School of Public Health, University of Washington, and a past member of our Board of Directors says, “we know enough to act.”

By taking a lead role in the international movement to connect children, families and communities to the natural world, we are striving to reinforce the critical link between researchers and individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of children, families and communities.

My 2011 book, “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age,” explored this key question: “What could our lives and our children’s lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?” In 2015, a followup book, “Vitamin N” offered 500 ways that individuals, families and communities could incorporate more nature connection into their daily lives. Now, in 2019, my newest book, “Our Wild Calling,” explores how connecting with animals can transform our lives — and save theirs.

Commentaries on the C&NN website are offered to share diverse points-of-view from the global children and nature movement and to encourage new thinking and debate. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of C&NN. C&NN does not officially endorse every statement, report or product mentioned.

What is Nature Deficit Disorder and How Does It Affect Our Kids?

If you’ve never heard of Nature Deficit Disorder, you’re certainly not alone. Nature Deficit Disorder is a term used to describe what happens when people disconnect from their natural surroundings. From our flat screened TVs to our climate controlled buildings, we don't dwell outside as much as our ancestors did. In fact, it`s estimated that Canadians spend 90% of their time indoors and 1.1 million have a Vitamin D deficiency. Wow.

  • Get them outside! Lure them away from screentime for outdoor play. Set an example and engage in fun recreational activities with them.
  • Support greening of public spaces. With 80% of our population living in urban centres, it’s important we maintain our beautiful parks, community gardens and forest trails for everyone to enjoy.
  • Encourage greening of our education and schoolyards. Kids need to connect with nature at school too. School-based outdoor programs and inviting green spaces let students reap the amazing advantages of the outdoors.

Kari is one of NVRC's bloggers and is also a busy and active North Van mom with three boys who all play hockey.

A graduate of UBC and BCIT, she’s worked in marketing and communications and now is spending more time pursuing her passion for words through storytelling and creating online content.

She is an active volunteer who loves home décor, travel, health and wellness and watching her kids play sports. When she’s not working at her computer, she can usually be found watching Netflix or exploring the North Shore.

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