The Dangers of Growing up Without Nature

Taking it easy around here at The Daily Banter for a couple of days during the Thanks Giving holiday – back up to full speed next week.

In the mean time, check out George Monbiot’s fascinating piece on the growing trend of children growing up detached from their natural environment and the problems it causes. Monbiot notes that:

The remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature – which is even faster than the collapse of the natural world – is recorded in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, and in a report published recently by the National Trust. Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven- to 15-year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

Monbiot argues that the effects of this can be extremely detrimental, not just health wise, but intellectually:

The rise of obesity, rickets and asthma and the decline in cardio-respiratory fitness are well documented. Louv also links the indoor life to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental ill health. Research conducted at the University of Illinois suggests that playing among trees and grass is associated with a marked reduction in indications of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac appears to increase them. The disorder, Louv suggests, “may be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature”. Perhaps it’s the environment, not the child, that has gone wrong.

In her famous essay the Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 “geniuses”, she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between five and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among “the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play … which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall”.

I grew up in a large city but was fortunate enough to be forced by my parents to regularly go to the countryside. I of course preferred to play video games at the time, but looking back, I am incredibly grateful that I experienced the magnificent British countryside; hiking mountains in Wales, walks through the rugged terrain along Hadrian’s Wall (the wall built by Roman Emperor Hadrian keeping northern barbarians out of occupied Britain), camping in rural fields on the Isle of Wight, weekends on traditional British farms and many other amazing experiences that many children I grew up with in London didn’t get the chance to participate in. Did it make me more intelligent or creative? I don’t know, but I distinctly remember feeling a unique sense of freedom in the outdoors, and it certainly peaked my curiosity in regards to the natural world. I also developed an idea that there was far more to life than sitting in a stuffy room in front of a screen – and that’s something I’ll be forever grateful for.

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