When a Child doesn’t meet Nature

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I was looking around the web doing my normal thing when I came across this blurb about a new movement called . . . Leave no Child Inside. Oh brother-I thought, here’s another one of these wacky new age movements without any reasoning in practicality. Little did I know.

Because of my profession I am aware very aware of what has happened over the last generation or so. Kids do not go outside, dirt is bad for you, and the woods(if there are any woods) are something to be afraid of. Playing in the creek; no way . . . really bad for you. This I knew.

Apparently it is worse than I thought, it’s a total rebellion of nature, apparently all contact is being lost with the outside world, and the policies to be so clean, so antiseptic, so “safety conscious” are not working.

Studies show that almost to a person conservationists or environmentalists— whatever we want to call them—had some transcendent experience in nature when they were children. For some, the epiphanies took place in a national park; for others, in the clump of trees at the end of the cul-de-sac. But if experiences in nature are radically reduced for future generations, where will stewards of the Earth come from?

This is just one of the great questions posed by Richard Louv; Leave no Child Inside, in this months issue of Orion magazine. It is but one of many great questions and dilemmas raised by Mr. Louv.

Just why have school districts canceled field trips and recess and environmental education? And why doesn’t our school have windows that open and natural light?

The recess attitude has always bothered me, I mean “I wanna go outside”, but somehow in the last generation the word recess has become a bad word. A bad word by a generation that had recess, that had woods, that played hide-n-seek . . . after dark. What the hell happened? Where did it all go wrong?

If you’re wondering why a Landscape Designer is ranting on about this madness . . . well, you shouldn’t wonder. Look at where my profession is going. Look at what the 20 something’s and early 30 something’s want in their backyard. Look at the decline of gardening. It’s a real decline, and with the attitudes being developed in kids today it will not get better. It will get much worse. Kids already know that carrots come from the grocery store. No need to grow any extra. How about this jaw dropper from the article.

As one suburban fifth grader put it to me, in what has become the signature epigram of the children-and-nature movement: “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

Another part of this equation is the argument that that bad man is going to get you, that it is no longer safe outside, stranger-danger and all that, well hold on to that thought.

Most of all, parents cite fear of stranger-danger. Conditioned by round-the-clock news coverage, they believe in an epidemic of abductions by strangers, despite evidence that the number of child-snatchings (about a hundred a year) has remained roughly the same for two decades, and that the rates of violent crimes against young people have fallen to well below 1975 levels.

I got to believe a lot of this really is about the 24 hour news cycle, and the media insatiable attitude to promote sensationalism. There isn’t much sensationalism in sitting quietly in the woods, enjoying the sounds of nature. There’s not much sensationalism leaning up against a tree, half-awake, fishing pole in the water. Watching a great sunset is sensational; to some of us, but doesn’t come across well on the evening news.

The rapid increase in childhood obesity leads many health-care leaders to worry that the current generation of children may be the first since World War II to die at an earlier age than their parents. Getting kids outdoors more, riding bikes, running, swimming—and, especially, experiencing nature directly—could serve as an antidote to much of what ails the young.

How incredibly sad would this be. Today’s mom obsesses about every germ in the house, “but have another twinkie, stay inside“. Me, I’d rather eat some dirt. Remember eating dirt? Rolling in the herbicide free lawn-munching dandelions?

Developers and environmentalists, corporate CEOs and college professors, rock stars and ranchers may agree on little else, but they agree on this: no one among us wants to be a member of the last generation to pass on to its children the joy of playing outside in nature.

This is Mr. Louv’s closing for the article, he leaves the reader with this glimmer of hope. I am not so optimistic because I come at this from a different perspective, I can’t be so sure this will not come to pass.

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2 responses to “When a Child doesn’t meet Nature

  1. Last Child in the Woods has been a hot book among the youth/garden educator folks I know. But I fear that it’s more than nature-deficit disorder that we face.

    I was part of a conversation lamenting how poor today’s college kids are at managing time. A 50ish Extension horticulture guy I know had his explanation: When we were kids, we got home from school and had about two hours of freedom. We only had to stay out of trouble and be back by supper. You learned just how far you could go on your bike or how far you could hike into the woods and still be back when the soup was on.

    Kids today don’t have that kind of freedom. So they move away from home and get that freedom for the first time, and we wonder why they can’t get to class on time or budget their time over the weekend?

    It’s not just appreciation for nature we’re losing, but some other pretty important skills.

    Craig:
    Thanks for joining in the conversation. It’s a great point you bring up, and I got to tell you it hit straight home. We did know exactly where/when we could go and how far to push it. I could spend all day in the woods(if I took lunch) I just had to be home for supper at 4:30 . . . then back outside. Everything you say makes great sense.
    The loss of these skills and experiences . . . how will it affect the future?

  2. I completely agree with you. I grew up in the country and we roamed through the woods… I’m sure that there were days that mom wasn’t quite sure where we were. My ex-husband, who is also 31, was a city kid and was almost snatched on his way home from school once in the 1980s. So it seems that dangers were always around. We just actually learned to deal with them instead of turning them into a video game.

    Kim:
    If I had found out that you had grown up any other way than playing in the woods I would have been shocked/amazed/mollified 🙂 City kid, afraid to go outside, and definitely afraid of the woods . . . too bad. it’s true we did really learn to deal with them, beyond that there were so many great memories . . . so many.

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