Take a Hike, Kid

Kids say the darnedest things. ‘I like to play indoors better
’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,’ one
fifth-grader told Richard Louv, author of
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From
Nature-Deficit Disorder
. Raise the age bracket and you
might hear, as did one high school teacher querying his students on
the environment: ‘If you go out [in nature], there has to be a
parent because you can’t protect yourself’ or ‘The environment will
die.’ Writing for
Sierra, Louv cites these comments as
evidence that now more than ever, children are being raised
indoors, largely because the outside world is just too scary.

With the constant message that the end of the natural world is
coming in their lifetimes, many children have adopted an
apocalyptic view of environmental issues, or ‘ecophobia.’ Says
Karen Hurley, writing for
Grist: ‘[T]he dominant, dystopic vision
of the future is seen as more ‘realistic’ simply because it is
talked about more, visualized more, and analyzed more.’ This
flood of overwhelming information shuts kids off to the issues
instead of engaging kids to care about them.

It’s not just the environmental doomsday that has kids
frightened. Parents and caregivers are increasingly concerned about
their children’s safety. Even though abduction rates are falling,
many parents are convinced that their children are in danger of
being kidnapped. Nature’s creatures are ending up on most wanted
lists, too. Dave Anderson, writing for the New Hampshire newspaper
Concord Monitor, suggests that media
coverage sensationalizes wild animal attacks to the point that
these rare occurrences seem like everyday hazards. ‘Dire
warnings increasingly frighten parents and children to the point
of keeping kids indoors, alienated from what is perceived as a
wild, dangerous insect- and germ-infested ‘great outdoors,”
says Anderson. No longer is it acceptable to send the kids out
and expect them home at dinnertime, sun-tinged and covered in
dirt, scrapes, and bruises. Parents’ reactions to animals,
insects, and nature, whether they ‘scream, wince, or smile,’
writes Anderson, can set the stage for children’s perceptions of
the natural world.

‘Yes, there are hazards outside the home,’ notes Louv. ‘But, in
most cases, they pale in comparison to those of raising young
people under what amounts to protective house arrest.’ Broken bones
are less likely indoors, but repetitive stress-injuries (think
videogames) are increasingly common. Childhood obesity is more
rampant that ever. Conversely, fewer symptoms of Attention Deficit
Disorder are found among children who engage with nature. Studies
also suggest that kids are more creative and cooperative when they
play in a natural setting, as opposed to an asphalt playground.

Not content to let fear win, parents and teachers are stepping
up to get kids outdoors again. Nature-based preschools and public
high schools have started opening within the last year. Parents
also are trying to be role models for the kids. Says Hurley, kids
just need to know ‘that there [are] adults making positive change
toward a flourishing earth.’ The results will pay off as children
feel more confident in the natural environment. ‘Experience lets
children safely explore a world they will soon inherit,’ writes
Anderson.

Go there >>
Leave No Child Inside

Go there, too >>
Gotta Wear Shades
Why Don’t You Go Outside and Play?

Related Link:
Tuning in Call of the Wild

Related Links From the Utne archive:
Running
Scared
$

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