By Carly Kray
Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books, 2008). His research suggests that spending less time outdoors results in behavioral and developmental problems, particularly for children. Louv explains that Nature Deficit Disorder arises out of parental fears, reduced access to natural areas, and an increase in screen time.
Louv believes that because of fears catalyzed by the media, parents would rather keep children indoors than let them explore outdoors. When children stay indoors, they are more likely to spend their time in front of video games, computer screens, and television, rather than engaging in unstructured and/or social play. He also believes that limited access to natural environments in neighborhoods is detrimental to a child’s relationship with nature.
The effects of nature deficit disorder might be best understood as an absence of benefits. Time in nature tends to reduce anxiety, mitigate attention disorders, relieve depression, and increase one’s affinity for an active life, which reduces the likelihood of obesity and other ailments associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
In addition, Louv notes that schools with outdoor programs tend to post significant student gains in attention and grades. Last Child in the Woods, and Louv’s follow-up, The Nature Principle (Algonquin Books, 2011), make a strong case that more time in nature can help a child to become more inquisitive, thoughtful, inventive, and self-reliant. Other research demonstrates a relationship between time in nature and increased creativity. The call to action is clear: we need to get our kids outside, and we could use more time in nature ourselves.
Law student Carly Kray served as an intern at the Orfalea Foundation.