The Need for Nature

Richard Louv has set up a pretty broad picture for us so far. The history of how we, as Americans, proceed through our conquests and frontiers reveals not a mere trend, but rather a distinct characteristic.

Now that we’ve progressed to the third frontier, it is the essence of our nature to move on. If I’m not mistaken, in the whole of this book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv is asking us: in which direction, for the sake of our children, do we choose to continue?

This question is rooted in a deep concern for the current status quo.

Based on his life’s passion and writings, Louv consolidated his knowledge and developed the term nature-deficit disorder. He’s very quick to explain that it is not an official medical diagnosis, nor is it meant to front itself as such. He does, however make a strong case for the term:

“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human cost of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”

He continues; his mission is to rid ourselves of this unnecessary malady:

“By weighing the consequences of this disorder, we can also become more aware of how blessed our children can be – biologically, cognitively, and spiritually – through positive physical connection to nature.”

Through his research, Louv came across the hypothesis of Edward O. Wilson: biophilia. This term concentrates on biological shifts based on “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”

Though not all biologists are strong advocates of this theory, the field of ecopsychology has contributed data highlighting the positive response in humans after being exposed to many different aspects of nature.

For instance, one study shows “the mortality rate of heart-disease patients with pets was found to be one-third that of patients without pets.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Louv shares the statistic showing that the steepest increase in antidepressant prescriptions by demographic was a boost… in preschoolers. Yes, preschoolers.

I am not a doctor, nor an expert of anything for that matter. But, perpetual growth and change is the nature of all preschool-aged children. Mentally and physically, through circadian rhythms and coordination skill, logic and imagination, size and weight, children in this demographic are supposed to reveal all emotion and breadth of personality; how else would they know it exists?

How else would they learn to distinguish between right and wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, and tell happy from sad? To me, the diagnosis of depression in a child this young is a stretch.

Just the other day, my four-yr-old daughter became very emotional very spontaneously. Call me crazy, but I didn’t call the doctor. I took her on a long, long walk and let her act monkey-esque at a park for the afternoon. I don’t know why the sudden changes in either direction, unusually sad or immediately content, but it looked to me as if taking the little lady out into the fresh air and sunshine fixed whatever was ailing her that morning.

Louv says:

“You’ll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals. But parents, educators, and health workers need to know what a useful antidote to emotional and physical stress nature can be. Especially now.”

Have you personally witnessed your child(ren) change demeanor after a change in their indoor/outdoor status?What do you think of Louv’s assessment regarding the current state of our kids’ culture?

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  1. 1.) No need for the disclaimer, but you forgot to mention the five push-ups that one must do when THEY pull a joaner. 2.) Fresh air and sunshine is a remedy for anxiety attacks at any age. 3.) Perpetual growth and change continues through a person’s entire life. 4.) I’m on my way to buy a used kayak because I need to get out more.

  2. I get to borrow it. Watch out for the beast Josh & I saw on our anniversary. Dun nuh… dun nuh… (that’s supposed to be Jaws music).

  3. This was a terrific article; Kell has been warned about the GATORS and I don’t mean TEBOW

  4. What a fascinating topic. We live in a very urban environment, but I’m originally from Utah and easy access to the outdoors is the thing I miss the very most. This year we decided to invest in great outdoor winter gear for us and our two young kids so we can eat least get outside in the snow and not be cooped up inside all day. We don’t have a backyard, so it takes a little more effort to get outside but we are all so much happier when we do.

  5. This post touches on my PASSION for my children and our lives. I think nature/natural living is affected by the choices, big and small, we make as families. What do you choose to do on the weekends as a family? Where do you choose to live? What is your choice for after-school activities? When our family spends time together outside whether for work or play, everyone seems happier. There is nothing better for a whiny kid than a little fresh air! And in these economic times, there are endless FUN, FREE, EDUCATIONAL opportunities in the Great Outdoors.

    • @Shawn: I love not having anything in mind when we go outside & have to use our imaginations to occupy our time. You can use anything around you as a tool for fun!

  6. Outside is therapeutic… I mean, look at the movie “The Secret Garden”! That’s scientifically supportive, right? 🙂 Yes. The kids (and the mama who gets to leave house work and the projects all screaming for attention) get to run a-muck. No one says, “sh, the baby’s sleeping” or “don’t jump on the couch” or “inside voices”. Its the kind of thing where you get your heart rate up and blood pumping and don’t even realize it. They usually eat their dinner better. And their concentration on school work is MUCH better. PLUS they don’t make a mess inside, and have to clean it up!

    • @Renee: Absolutely! If you’re kids come inside & they aren’t dirty, then they need to go back outside. Grass stains are a stamp of character. 🙂

  7. I totally agree! I have a toddler and outside is his favorite place to be, always has been. Even when he was a newborn and I couldn’t figure out why he was crying, a journey to the great outdoors always improved his mood. Any time he’s whiny or having a rough day, a trip to the playground or a walk at the park is the perfect remedy.

    I grew up in the country and now we live in a big city, but luckily my parents still have a farm and I can’t wait to introduce my kids to the great outdoors of the country which is so different than the outdoors of our city. Thanks for a great post!

    • @Kelly: What a great thing to have a farm as your getaway! My mom & dad live on the beach so we’re lucky to have that, but we still talk about getting a family piece of land to throw a football or drive a go-cart. There’s just something about a field– it’s like a blank canvas for play.