Article this week in the Guardian: “Concerns raised over number of children not engaging with nature”. Chock full of statistics on the scale of the problem. But is the article missing the point a little? Before the child fails to engage with nature the parent has to fail to engage with the child. Too many parents on their devices, busy shopping for BBQ’s on a Saturday, leaving the kids in front of the TV gaming or sending them off to learn something useful. Find the space and time to engage with your kids. Go to a park and do nothing but kick a ball or climb trees.
Nature provides the ideal space for parents to connect – children have a natural affinity for the outdoors which makes connecting with them that much easier. But this needs to be fostered – in his 2005 book, The Last Child in the Woods, the writer Richard Louv introduced the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the growing gap between nature and children. It is our responsibility to bridge this gap, to introduce children to the wonderment that is outside so that the wonderment that is inside them has an appropriate space in which to express itself and play.
There is a direct link between exposure to the outdoors and mental health. In Japan there are now 44 Shinrin-yoku forests – dedicated woods where people go to commune with nature and bathe in the healing microbes and phytoncides that flow from the plants, soil and trees. More and more research is revealing the importance that nature plays in our personal eco-systems. The problem is not only that many children are not getting enough exposure to the outdoors but what is happening instead.
Most parents won’t need to be told about the impact of electronics on their children and the family as a whole. They will have had front row seats to the fighting and tears these games can create. As not just children’s lives but as the parent’s lives too become more high-tech it is critical that a natural balance be restored.