Dr. Magryta: Nature Deprivation Disorder
As we are getting closer to the end of the year and the cold strikes us hard in the face, we have a tendency to hunker down indoors and avoid the outside. A year ago, I wrote an article that I am going to use again with some additions because I feel so passionately about this topic and the realities of life that I see and hear about daily. I really want this topic repeatedly disseminated to us parents.
Video games and screens are omnipresent in our children’s lives. They pervade their thoughts. They significantly limit their self-driven need and desire to explore, imagine and be present with nature, silence and life as it exists around them.
Nature Deprivation Disorder is thought to be a serious problem for humans. Nature deficit disorder is a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Wood.” He thought that human beings, especially children, were spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.
What is the reality of this perceived condition? If you believe the contention put forth by Mr. Louv, humans are less exposed to the natural world and are also exposed to constant negative media influences that let them feel unsafe about the outside world causing them to shun imaginative and exploratory activity outside in nature. Both of these statements appear true to me. When I think back to my childhood, there was a huge difference in our outdoor unsupervised play compared to what I see now.
Most children now play in playdates, school environments and organized sporting events, if they play at all. Parent- and teacher-directed activities will most likely drive the child’s thinking instead of self-driven imaginitive thought, unless the teacher is leading a self-directed event.
The consequences of unimaginative play can be that a children lose the imaginative side of their learning that stimulates exploratory investigation as they age. Unimaginative learning falls in line with today’s wrote memorization and “teach to the test” in primary, secondary and some professional schools, producing a generation of non-thinkers. When a person learns that the answer exists and they just need to follow a previously produced answer, there is no room for growth. The master should only be the master until the student surpasses.
Medicine is the classic arena where answers perceived to be true yesterday are proven wrong or different tomorrow. For the physicians of the future to have this mentality is not in humanity’s best interest.
If we believe that being out in the woods with nature, friends and the unknown is good for us, then where is the proof? Unfortunately, there is no definitive proof, but there are studies looking at all of the variables and the data points to this being an issue. For me, it is simple — do I really need a study to tell me that moving and observing the outdoors is better than sitting indoors on the computer or TV? I think not.
Children can learn an enormous amount of information from mother nature just through observation. Nature’s scientific and sociologic education can persist throughout their lives.
I think of a recent book that I read, “Kill Decision” by Daniel Suarez, where the book’s drone technology applications mirrored the actions of ants and how they swarm around food or prey based on the release of pheromones. We have so much to learn from the natural world and children are great at doing just that, as they do not have a hard drive of preconceived beliefs that jade their perception.
For these reasons and many others, I am a firm believer in outdoor play and learning from infancy on. Not to mention that the outdoor play exposes these young beings to bacteria that help prime and build their immune systems to be tolerant. It offers them a route to natural sun exposure which drives vitamin D production which in turn helps the immune system be tolerant to the inside and outside world, via a cell called the T regulator cell. It exposes them to fresh air, which is important for cellular brain function. It allows their eyes to focus on things in the distance which reduces myopia and the need for glasses as we age. And on and on and on and on……
Last year I had a conversation with Jason Urroz, who is running a program called Kids in Parks. the goal of which is to get children hiking and exploring their local world again by providing hiking trails in every county, allowing them to unplug from the screen world of entertainment and explore their minds.
Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia are involved in this project. Each trail is called a track trail where the children can go explore then go online and post the event. To my extreme happiness, we have launched a track trail at Hurley Park in Rowan County.
I am also working with a group called Muddy Sneakers led by Ryan Olson whose sole mission is to “enrich the standard course of study through experiential education in an outdoor setting where students connect with the land, become more active, and gain in self-confidence while improving science aptitude.” This organization exists to counter Nature Deprivation Disorder.
Get dirty in the woods. Check out the Crowder Mountain hike and track trail.
If you have any charitable money laying around, consider these fine organizations now or in the future.
Let common sense reign and get your kids outside whether it is rainy, cold, sunny or dry,
Dr. Chris Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org