Back when I was a kid you couldn’t keep us in, now you can’t get kids out, how things have changed. I must admit that as a child we were out playing from dawn to dusk, and more if my mum didn’t shout us in, we were in for chores, breakfast, dinner as we called our lunch, and our tea. If we were in the house we were expected to do chores which would be a pretty good incentive to get out from under our mum’s feet. Otherwise you would hear us singing to my mum and dad’s music albums generally a mixture of Buddy Holly, Shawaddywaddy, Abba, and ELO whilst cleaning out our rooms! I read endless books of the Secret Seven, and the Famous Five, but only when it rained, books were not for sunny days. If we were in it was raining and we played the endless rounds of Monopoly and Cluedo, otherwise we were out, playing all sorts of things from hide and seek, to riding bikes, to hopscotch, to mayhem…I quite liked mayhem!
This was the era when if you upset the neighbour they would give you a clip around the ear, whilst taking you to see your mother who then would not only clip you around the ear for the misdemeanor but also for upsetting the neighbour.
But now there is a term that’s been coined which is very telling of how little the children of today are outside, and it’s called Nature Deficit Disorder, I’m waiting for a medication to show up soon fast on this new labels heels. I truly can’t imagine that this label hasn’t been given for any other reason, but it is highly accurate of what is currently happening to our children. But seriously this is now considered a disorder, that our children are outside so little in nature that it is causing harm and I for one agree that it isn’t healthy for them.
The rise in technology and the ability to have it on all the time is mainly the culprit along with an overriding fear of letting children out to play. I watch the children around us hardly able to walk anything more than short distances without telling us how hard it is for them, before getting out their phones I assume for confirmation, or to take a selfie of what the adults in the party are making them do! It’s clear that sitting with technology for long periods is leaving them unfit, their focus on the need to take photo’s of themselves rather than engage with their environment is showing a complete lack of connectivity, and our hopes of changing our environmental issues reduces with those who have no affinity for using it responsibly. Why would someone care about something if they have never experienced it, the resources that are used to make the technology they are using are more important than the environment.
It’s shown that TV watching steadily increased over the last few decades and this has transferred from PC’s to mobile devices, my boyfriend came in to tell me how he had seen a child of no more than 3 so attached to it’s iPad that the parents struggled to gain its attention. The TV was always a great child pacifier, so nothing has changed except that kids are now pacifying themselves. But it’s not good for their health in many ways, they are now sitting for long periods, well unless they are playing Pokemon Go, they are up late on devices that then leave them with sleep deficits, they are more influenced by what is on that screen than is happening in their local environment, is the parent truly now the main influencer of the child? Depending on how long that child is spending with you over being in school or on their device, the potential is that the parent now has some of the smallest amount of influence they have ever had. I know that the innocence of my childhood certainly has gone, children now speak and act out things that they have learnt widely on the Internet, the global school of thoughts but are they helpful to those children? The rise in adolescent mental health issues says to me potentially not.
But let’s come back to the main point I wished to raise which was that our children are not outside in nature enough, natures playground is one of great learning for our children, being out in nature is shown to improve creativity in both adults and children. In fact a piece of research carried out by 2 psychologists who measured the creativity of a group of people prior to taking them out to the wilderness without their devices and then after the 4 day no device out in nature experience, showed that they had a 50% increase in creativity. 50% increase is huge in any piece of research carried out, and show’s how in many cases we are short changing our children by not encouraging them to engage with their environment other than via a device. I believe many now believe that spending time in front of a screen that can show you more or less anything in the world is giving them the actual experience, why bother to try and experience directly when you have done it on screen. The need to go somewhere to experience something different doesn’t need to happen when you can do it from the comfort of your chair, but this isn’t real life they are having, it’s virtual reality, created to keep them focused on the device.
Mental health is steadily increasing, stress and anxiety are factors that are in many more children’s lives than ever. I believe that this is partly due to how connected to electronic devices our children are and how little they are out in nature experiencing the richness of life directly, and being properly stimulated by it. It’s clear from the research that being outside is stimulating in different ways than being indoors on a device, and that it reduces anxiety and stress levels being out in nature, research after research shows this. Yet we still load our kids up with the latest devices, giving in to their demands whilst not considering the wider health implications.
Vitamin D is vital for health and this is just another factor that is now an issue not only for most adults in the UK but also our children. Just this weekend I spent time with a teenager who rarely leaves their bedroom anymore, who was so pale skinned, and who kept themselves so covered up, it was of little doubt to me that they would be suffering from vitamin D deficiency. They were shattered doing a walk that my friend who had been seriously ill was making with effort but generally less effort than they were, this is something that needs to be addressed. Our children shouldn’t be inside they should be out learning in the best schooling they will ever get, nature if we are to reduce mental health issues at this early an age we have to see that nature and being outdoors plays an important role in this.