Main content | Sidebar | Links

Friday, April 29, 2005

Xboxed in: Does your child have 'nature-deficit disorder'?

Richard Louv (a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist) has been studying children's experiences with the natural world, and has concluded that technology, parental worry, and hyperscheduled activities are cultivating "nature-deficit disorder" in children:

He came up with the term, he said, to describe an environmental ennui flowing from children's fixation on artificial entertainment rather than natural wonders. Those who are obsessed with computer games or are driven from sport to sport, he maintains, miss the restorative effects that come with the nimbler bodies, broader minds and sharper senses that are developed during random running-around at the relative edges of civilization.

It's an interesting article, but the most troubling section comes at the end:

Mr. Louv refers to parents' abduction fears as "the bogeyman syndrome." But he suggests that the more likely bogeymen are people who "criminalize" outdoor play through neighborhood associations and their covenants. His own neighborhood's residents' association, he said, is known to go around tearing down tree houses.

"If all these covenants and regulations were enforced, then playing outdoors would be illegal," Mr. Louv said.

And to let a child loiter is almost unthinkable, said Hal Espen, the editor of Outside magazine in Santa Fe, N.M. "The ability to just wander around is a much more fraught and anxiety-prone proposition these days," he said. "There's a lot of social zoning to go along with the urban zoning."

For Ms. Herzog, the fitness director, the local schoolyard has become the latest casualty. It was fenced off recently for security: a "lockdown," she called it. "That doesn't allow active play on the school grounds" during off hours, Ms. Herzog said. "It's not getting any easier."

None of this was part of my 1970s childhood in Orem, Utah, where a mob of us kids was usually rushing around from one yard to the next, launching dirt-clod wars in our unfinished subdivision, or playing football in the front yard of the church. Even when we moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1982, my parents let my brother and me ride our bikes along the river to the planetarium or to the mall. Although I know I spent a lot of time in front of a TV or computer screen (Commodore Pet, anyone?), my childhood memories are full of outdoor adventures in a lower- to middle-class neighborhood.

Do herds of children still run free? What's it like in your neck of the woods?

P.S. Despite tomorrow's rainy forecast, the Boston-area Liberal Religious Bloggers & Readers Picnic at the social hall of the First Parish in Milton — details here — will step away from the pixelated glow of the computer screen for real-live human company and as much nature as nature lets us enjoy. If we had scheduled it for today, just think of the outdoor games we could play!

("Growing Up Denatured," Bradford McKee, New York Times 4.28.05, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 29 April 2005 at 8:29 AM

Previous: 'The dictatorship of absolutisms.'
Next: How goes the Unitarian Jihad ad campaign?




April 29, 2005 08:54 AM | Permalink for this comment

(((will step away from the pixelated glow of the computer screen for real-live human company and as much nature as nature lets us enjoy.)))

Oh. We will?

Cuz I was bringing my laptop...

leaving for Boston pretty much as soon as the CSO wakes up.


April 29, 2005 09:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

Fausto Jr will no doubt bring his Game Boy anyway. And the church does have a toddler room with a VCR if we're stuck inside and the kiddies get antsy.

--Fausto Sr, who was staring at the screen himself this morning, because he's teaching the Last Supper and Jesus' arrest in Sunday School this weekend, and he distrusts the spin presented in the teaching material, and he wanted to read Emerson's Last Supper Sermon for an authentic Unitarian perspective

Glyn Evans:

April 29, 2005 11:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

This is a very good article. I couldn't agree more. My son of 12 plays baseball, and enjoys skateboarding and such, but it is always a battle grande to tear him from the X-Box. I also grew up in the 70's and early 80's as a child and though times have changed somewhat, I believe that half of the change comes from the parents themselves.


April 29, 2005 12:49 PM | Permalink for this comment

I am the most indoorsy girl of all time, but I remember with great fondness all the neighborhood tearing-around we did, and the biking, and the frog-catching, and the making poisonous "tea" from leaves in the backyard. All because my mother regularly screamed, "Get the hell out of the house and go play outside!!"

Left to my own devices I would have read books all day, stopping only in time for theatre rehearsals. All those good memories of playing in the woods I owe to my Ma.
Thanks, Shirley. You made a Transcendentalist out of me.

Doug Muder:

April 29, 2005 02:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

Childless myself, I've been watching in horror as some kind of strange alien intelligence sweeps through my friends shortly after parenthood. Most of what I spent my childhood doing wouldn't be allowed now, even by the most well-meaning of parents.

If I showed up for meals on time and came home before dark, my parents were happy. Otherwise, I might be in some neighbor's yard, or down at the park, or just riding my bicycle aimlessly around town. That kind of unsupervised behavior is too risky for today's kids. Their loss.

Greek Shadow:

April 29, 2005 04:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

My brother and I would only need to go to a park with a football or basketball and fifty guys would pop out of the woodwork for a pickup game. My son, who is now a father himself would go to the park with a football or basketball and no one would show up. I found it very sad. We lived at that time in a part of town the police referred to as the War Zone. It was not fancy or upper middle class. The kids were more into Gangs that having fun. Between soccer Mom's and Gangs they've taken the fun out of being a kid today.

James Field:

April 29, 2005 04:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

Doug's comment reminded of my own childhood. We had to come home when the street lights turned on. Other than that we might be at the park, at someones house or in any number of yards.

We had our own unfinished suddivision fun. Our neighborhood was built out of an old avocado grove so we had tons of trees to hide in and rotten fruit for any variety of nefarious purposes.

Now I live in the country. We do have to worry about the occasional bear or mountain lion. The 3 and 5 year old can't play outside on their own. (There was a bobcat across the street yestrday)

But the 13 year old roams the woods and skates on the streets that don't get as much cross traffic. So often though, we do have to force him outside. He has no game console and is heavily limited in his use of the computer. The kids in the neighborhood don't seem to have that much time to get together. Some seem to have a sport every Saturday and church all day Sunday.

I know when my 13 year old stays at friends' houses the big highlight is always videogames and movies. I know the neighbor's trampoline is very popular though.

Barbara W. Klaser:

April 29, 2005 06:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

I feel lucky to have had parents who loved nature and took us camping a lot, to have grown up in the era before computers, and to have played actual physical games (tag, red rover, hide and seek) and ridden bikes with the other kids outside, even sometimes until after dark.

I detest sports, I've never exercised enough, and now I languish in front of a computer screen. But I still have this love of nature and the outdoors that will always be with me, and keeps me getting up to go outside and touch the Earth.

evil chutney:

April 29, 2005 10:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

You sad, sad people. Don't you know that dirt and sunshine cause UMPS (Uptight Parent Death Syndrome)? Plainly, children exist for the sake of their parents. If parents wish to have a worry free parenting experience, it is only just that children be kept away--at the cost of childhood--from anything that might endanger them if they lived in a tv movie. Would someone please think of the parents??


May 1, 2005 04:07 AM | Permalink for this comment

It's sad alright, but no one seems to be boycotting parenting.
We played outdoors many many hours -- and I was as far from being a tomboy as you could get. We walked to friends houses, played in the swamp, climbed trees, found snakes, picked up melted tar off of the street, lost galoshes by getting them sucked off by deep mud, and other activities considered harmless at the time. Once we were climbing around in the creek and I cut my foot so badly my cousin had to carry me home. When I lived in the city, I took buses across town (to my ballet lessons) which meant waiting on streetcorners for the bus. And my brother and I did engineering projects and waterworks in the back yard -- with the hose in our sandy soil. We hid in the secret room below the front stairs too. I remember walking to the store when I was three and my sister six. (I climbed over the back fence, repeatedly, at 2 1/2 -- I went back later to see how high that fence was and it was five or six feet high).
What are my stepsons going to remember about their childhoods? Homework and endless hours playing videogames and Magic.


May 2, 2005 02:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

if you wants your kids outside, kick them the hell outta the house. On a different topic, but related to this issue, STOP WORRYING ABOUT SMOKING!!. Shit. Letting your kids inside playing games and eating doritos, will lead to two things. Dumbasses and Fatasses.
If you want some REAL insight on american life go to


May 2, 2005 09:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Yeah, well, if the kids lived with us, they would go outside more. But there's still the problem of who they are going to play with if the rest of the kids are in front of the green glow....

Comments for this entry are currently closed.