Check out what Plenty has to say on the topic. And Salon. And Psychology Today. Enviro Girl is no clinical psychologist, but she recognizes that a walk in the woods restores her mental health. She observes that her children fight less and seem less “bored” and more happy when they’re playing outside than when they’re cooped up in the house. While her family does not suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder, Enviro Girl understands how it can happen.
Somewhere in the last 30 years the natural world has become our enemy, a myth propagated by the media (in Enviro Girl’s view). Advertisers don’t have access to audiences when they’re tuned out an unplugged–it’s easy to sell a kid sugar-coated cereal and toys if they’re parked on the couch giving you their undivided attention. If people play outside, they’re not shopping, paying gym fees or racking up credit card debt by spending money of stuff. They’re not paying attention to advertising.
If you think about it, there are lots of reasons to spread the propaganda to keep people inside where they’re “safe”: air pollution, risk of sunburn, animal bites, insect bites, unfenced ponds and lakes pose drowning hazards. Stray dogs, pedophiles, playground bullies, traffic. Allergies, rusty nails and pipes, broken glass, rockslides. Frostbite, slipping on the ice, West Nile Virus, Lyme’s Disease, poison ivy. A kid could get hit by a car, fall off the jungle gym, get kidnapped, be broadsided by a baseball bat and end up in the hospital with a concussion. Parents feel safer if they keep their brood inside where they can keep an eye on them, where the outside world can’t get their kids. Inside is a controlled environment, outside poses a myriad of threats.
How to get outside and stay safe–it seems so daunting, right?
Enviro Girl and her tribe are relishing the start of summer vacation. Already there have been a little sunburn, a few flesh wounds, one small lump on the head. Yet her children have limited their screen time to 2 hours a day and the screen door bangs open and shut all day long. There are kites to fly, bikes to ride, a fort to build. They’re swimming, hosing off the deck (and consequently, one another). They’ve caught frogs, saved a baby opossum, captured bugs of all sizes in a jar. They’ve looked for patterns in the clouds and constellations in the stars. They’ve laid in the hammock, kicked balls, shot baskets, planted seeds and dug up worms.
How does Enviro Girl create a culture of kids playing outside in relative safety?
1. She’s got an open door policy. As soon as the weather permits, the doors and windows fly open, the sounds of nature and the smell of fresh air enter the house. Inside feels like outside and there’s no climate-controlled spot available, a person’s just as comfortable in the shade of a tree as in the middle of her living room.
2. She actively monitors her children’s screen time. “Turn it off, get outside” gets repeated a lot, but her kids understand how crabby a full day of nonstop gaming and TV viewing make them. They’ve learned to restrict their time to watch the shows they really want to watch and they know that eventually a little rain will fall and allow them the occasional afternoon slouched on the couch.
3. She makes it easy to be outside. Cans of sunscreen and insect repellent sit by every porch and in the garage, baseball caps and sandals are always handy. The towels and suits are in baskets on the back porch. Toys head inside and out without much interference. She brings snacks and drinks to the patio every afternoon. She keeps the days free of too much scheduling so the kids have TIME to enjoy playing outside.
4. She provides sidewalk chalk, wheels (bikes, skateboards, scooters), water hoses, a tent for back yard camping, clothes that can get grass-stained and muddy, marshmallows for roasting, a basketball hoop for pick-up games.
5. She limits the family’s “field trips” by asking them to create a summer bucket list of what they want to DO instead of where they want to GO. When she poses the question of what they’ll DO all summer, the list includes camping, fishing, building a fort.
Tell the Eco Women, how do you combat Nature Deficit Disorder at your house?