Nature Deficit Disorder
From the youngest age, early humans were taught to respect nature, to honour the birds, and steer clear of the bees. We learned which plants we could eat, and which would bring a painful death.
Children growing up in what we now consider “primitive societies” were allowed to explore their world, get dirty, get muddy, and even get injured. Injury and experimentation with the natural world was part of being a child. Adults who oversaw children were abundant, and the entire tribe or village would be responsible for imparting knowledge, and skill on each individual child. When a child got injured, they learned an important life lesson. Slight injury, fun, and exploration were one in the same. Adults encouraged children to be tough, and brave.
Until about only about 5,000 years ago humans did not wear shoes. Our feet connected us to our surroundings in ways most modern humans cannot begin to imagine. Our bare feet were toughened when young, and it was a lifelong pursuit to keep our body, mind, and spirit tuned to the natural rhythms of nature.
Fast forward a few thousand years.
Children growing up in the westernised world are forced to suppress their most basic, primal desires – to get dirty. They are forced to wear shoes, uncomfortable clothes, sunscreen, and bug spray.
Children are encouraged to stay clean, leave the sticks, stay out of trees, and not eat dirt. They are allowed to spend hours each day playing video games in almost sterile, climate controlled environments, but not to go outside and satisfy their basic needs and desires. Children are encouraged by advertising to purchase specific types of clothes, food, and beverages. Almost all of these are synthetic.
There is little encouragement from adults to be tough, emotionally or physically. Most of the focus of our children is on a synthetic world created by us to keep them clean, and keep them physically safe.
Although the rise of wearing shoes for protection over the last 100 years has increased exponentially, children still have a basic desire to go without shoes. They are almost always corrected by adults. Almost all of the things we force our children, and ultimately ourselves to do in the world go against our primal selves.
Recent studies conducted by the University of Michigan, MIT, National Environmental Education Foundation have revealed some very disturbing facts regarding the condition of the westernised world:
• We are genetically weaker than our predecessors
• We have an extremely high amount of foot, knee, and back disorders
• Diseases like asthma, autism, ADD, and obesity are higher than ever before
• There are more cases of depression today than ever recorded previously
If we are keeping our children cleaner, and safer than ever before, why have we become weaker in so many ways?
The answer is simple: We are kept separated from the natural world.
Observations of children in parts of the world where going barefoot is common, and being in jungles, forests, and woods is a daily activity show surprising results. The children grow to be healthier adults. They show lower instances of foot, knee, and back disorders. There are virtually no allergies, and diseases like asthma, autism, ADD, and even obesity are virtually unheard of. Authors such as Richard Louv have discovered that cultures which instill a deep respect for nature at a young age will have a greater reverence and desire for preservation as they become adults.
The reason for these results is simple: Children who are allowed to get dirty, and absorb the earth through their skin have greater immune systems than those who do not.
Exposure to the earth provides essential bacteria introduction into the body, as well as pathogen exposure to help boost the autoimmune systems in developing children.
Children who are not encouraged to go outdoors, get dirty, and run barefoot do not develop proper immune system function, brain function, and respect for the natural world. Children and adults need exposure to the earth to maintain a healthy body and immune system.
Most people know that wild birds cannot survive in captivity. We are learning the hard way that our children cannot survive in the safe captivity we have created for them.
©2011 Wolfmaan – This article may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety as long as author accreditation is maintained.
CHARLES, Cheryl Ph.D (2010). HEALTH BENEFITS TO CHILDREN FROM CONTACT WITH THE OUTDOORS & NATURE Retrieved from: www.childrenandnature.org
TRINKAUS, E., SHANG, H. (2008). Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear: Tianyuan and Sunghir. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35(7), 1928-1933. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2007.04.002<
TRINKAUS, E. (2005). Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear use. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32(10), 1515-1526. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2005.04006
BARKLAY, Russel (2006) Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis, Guilford Press
LOUV, Richard (2005 ) Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books
Saving kids from nature-deficit disorder – May 25, 2005, NPR
Nature Rocks, initiative by Richard Louv and Children & Nature Network to inspire and empower parents to connect children to nature