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Are your children starting to feel lethargic?  Stressed out? Having trouble concentrating? Are they irritable, angry, and bored now that the summer is almost at a close? The problem isn’t that they need to go back to school… it’s that they need to go outside!

Richard Louv, an American author and journalist, describes the growing phenomenon of increased mental and behavioral problems in his latest book The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age as “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

People simply aren’t getting outside enough and interacting with nature as much as they used to and this has adverse effects on both mental and physical health.  While Nature Deficit Disorder is not a professional medical diagnosis, it is common shorthand amongst environmentalists and physicians to describe the negative effects caused by our alienation from our natural surroundings.

Louv spent a decade researching the phenomenon across the United States and has found that the disorder is wide spread, even across Canada. There are numerous factors that play into Nature Deficit Disorder, most prevalent and obvious being the lure of entertainment technology. With so much available indoors in the way of television, movies, the internet, and gaming systems, people are much more apt to spend time indoors and seek out a new electronic device to satisfy their boredom rather than venture outside.

GreenHero and renowned Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki also recognizes the disorder and champions the fight against keeping our children and ourselves indoors. The growing paranoia of our world, ‘stranger danger’ and our children getting hurt outdoors has us keeping them close, in locked yards or in basements, playing videogames instead of venturing off outside to discover the wonders of nature. This is having serious adverse affects on children, not just in terms of obesity and physical problems, but is also a likely cause of the rise of Attention Deficit Disorder in both children and adults. Louv mentions in a recent interview that studies done in Australia have linked a lack of outdoor activity to a rise in myopia in both children and adults.

This past week, GreenHeroes producer John Bessai interviewed Robert Bateman, local Canadian naturalist and renowned artist about his work and his opinion on the beneficial effects nature has both psychologically and physically. Bateman has been actively pursuing ways to get children and families more involved and familiar with nature through his art. In 2000, he launched the the Robert Bateman Get to Know Program in British Columbia which has expanded over time and now runs across 29,000 schools all across Canada. The initiative is designed to familiarize kids with nature and learn ways to connect with the natural world through the arts.

By separating ourselves and our children from nature out of fear, we are raising the next generation who will ultimately inherit all of our global environmental issues without the knowledge, the experience, and the love of nature needed in order to effectively combat complex environmental issues. As Suzuki said in his own article concerning the issue, “Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it.”

Luckily, the answer is easy. Go outside while the summer is still here. Take a walk through a conservation area or provincial park. Go camping for the weekend. Take a bike ride. Literally anything is better than staying inside. Turn off the games and the television and enjoy the summer while it lasts; your kids will thank you for it…


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