Saturday, May 7, 2016

Is Lack of Connection to Nature Harming Our Children?

By Melanie Schuck

We are a society in trouble. We have a broken political structure rife with corruption and greed. Our people choose to be friends with their devices and rely on them more than actual people. Violence and crime are very high. We have more people in prison per capita than any other nation on Earth. And these are only a few of our societal problems. The worst of them all is global climate change and overall destruction of the natural environments of the Earth. This is the worst because it directly affects humans and once it starts affecting us (as it already has) it will be next to impossible to stop it. The implications of this disaster are enormous. This story will seek to address the issue between this destruction and the growing trend of humans being disconnected from nature.

With an increasing faith in technology, humans are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world. This phenomenon is known as nature-deficit disorder. The term nature-deficit disorder was coined by journalist Richard Louv to describe the current trend of disconnection between humans and the natural world. It is not an official diagnosis that is being used by therapists and psychologists but it is a very accurate description of what is currently happening in our world.

Is it a possibility that the prevalence of nature-deficit disorder has a direct correlation to our destruction of the natural environment? I believe the answer to be a firm yes. The more we urbanize and get disconnected from nature the more we become apathetic to the destruction of the natural world. The more we become apathetic towards nature the more we destroy it and become disconnected from it. Thus, it becomes a vicious cycle between nature-deficit disorder and destroying many of the Earth’s natural environments. Therefore reconnecting with nature goes beyond improving ourselves as humans.

It we are to connect with nature we are less likely to destroy it and more likely to preserve it. The more we preserve it the more it saves us as a species because we need the environment in order to survive, but it doesn’t need us. As can be seen from that above explanation, we have everything to gain in terms of reconnecting with nature.

Solution to Climate Change

Could one of the solutions to climate change be reconnecting with nature? Again, I believe the answer to this question to be yes. This hooks directly into the first question I posed in this piece. If we reconnect with nature, we are more likely to respect it therefore we might even go out of way to prevent further destruction from happening. If this is the case then one solution to climate change could simply to respect nature more than we do now.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, there is a quote that Mr. Louv includes that states “‘our brains are set up for an agrarian, nature-oriented existence that came into focus five thousand years ago,’ says Michael Gurian.” Using this statement, we can see the implication of the effects technology has on us as a species. As the quote says, our brains are calibrated for existence in nature not our current existence of constant technological stimulation and fast-paced life.  

However, we as humans can adapt. But, if our brains are set for the agrarian society that our world used to be then what damage is it doing to us? Not to mention the damage our planet is taking? Mr. Louv answers the first question in Last Child in the Woods, where he looks specifically at the effects nature-deficit disorder has on children. In this book, he talks about disturbing trends in children in the last few decades. Diagnoses of Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD), childhood obesity and the prescribing of anti-depressants to children are all on the rise. Mr. Louv argues that this is directly connected to children’s lack of time in nature.

The most obvious connection is childhood obesity. If children are increasingly spending more time indoors than outside, then they are more likely to be overweight because they are not getting enough exercise. The reason they are spending so much time indoors is due to the new technology available (tablets, gaming systems, computers etc.). Since these devices require electricity to power them, the children would need to be near outlets to charge up or use their devices. In addition, the extended time spent in front of screens can damage their development.
Screen-Free Week

This is one of the reasons why the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood is sponsoring their annual Screen-Free Week right now. It is from May second to the eighth this year and it encourages families and individuals to go a week without using any devices with a screen (with the exception of usage for work or school). Another reason why they sponsor this event is for the reasons in this story: reconnecting with nature as well as with friends and family.

Yesterday, my aunt told me about a news story she had heard of a thirteen-year-old boy stabbing a fourteen-year-old boy. She asked me ‘what’s wrong with our society?’ I firmly believe that there is a solid link between this disconnection from nature and the violence in the example of that story.

Some people may believe it is a stretch to make that claim but I disagree with that. Studies have shown that violence in the media whether it be video games, television shows or movies causes an increase in aggressive and violent behavior. If these children are spending all of their time playing a game such as Grand Theft Auto (the crime that the game is centered around is in the title) and they see these violent acts day after day, they are more likely to act like this or, worse, think that is acceptable to act in such a way. If they were to spend more time in the general serenity of nature then perhaps it would calm them and maybe even reverse the damage the video games and media have caused.

Melanie Schuck is a student at Ramapo College of New Jersey with a passion for writing. She will graduate with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. She hopes to make a difference with whatever job she gets after graduation but her ultimate aspiration is to publish her novels that she has been working on since high school and build a career out of her writing.

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