I often lament the over-medicalization of things, but I recently learned about a concept that put into words a modern societal problem I've grappled with for the past few years.**
In 2005, Richard Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder," referring to the increasing trend of children spending less time outdoors, resulting in a range of health and behavioral problems. He argues that 3 principle factors have contributed to this phenomenon: limited access to nature and the outdoors, increasing parental fears, and the "lure of the screen." So, with more children growing up in urban areas facing increased crime and traffic and decreased neighborliness, and a replacement of trees, streets and playgrounds with computers, video games and television, we are faced with generations of individuals who have not been socialized in the natural world.
A story on BBC this morning commented on this growing problem in the UK, citing an increase in the number of emergency department visits by children for falling out of bed, as opposed to falling out of trees. Children, they argue, are being coddled and protected inside the home and are not developing their natural risk-taking instincts in nature. What does this mean for our health and well-being? There have been no scientific studies linking NDD to health outcomes, but the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, autism spectrum disorders, ADD, anxiety and depression could plausibly be linked to this near-universal lack of exposure to the great outdoors and over-exposure to technology and indoor life.
So let's get our children back to the land... back to playing in the dirt, meeting neighbors, climbing trees, falling down, understanding insects and animals, caring about the environment, soaking in some sun and breathing in fresh air. Easier said than done, yes. And for many children, staying indoors might be the safer, healthier option. But they're always welcome here on Longhaul Farm.
** I really don't want to over-medicalize this, because I don't want people thinking all they have to do is go to the doctor and take a pill. Although I wouldn't mind if doctors started writing prescriptions for time in nature...