Nature Deficit Disorder is a term that was coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe how increasingly distant we as a society have become from nature. Technology has caused many of us to prefer spending time indoors watching Netflix rather than going outside and exploring our natural world. Children are especially vulnerable to this phenomenon. Physical play is starting to disappear and digital devices are largely to blame.
Although digital devices might seem harmless, they can actually have a big impact on your child’s development. Many children end up spending more than 7 hours a day on electronic devices. According to Dr. Victoria Dunckley, M.D. she has seen children who spends large amounts of time on these devices suffer from “lack of restorative sleep” and a “hyperaroused nervous system”. This results in children who are “impulsive, moody, and unable to pay attention” says Dr. Dunckley.
In addition, the incidence of mental disorders like depression and anxiety has risen steadily with at least five to eight times as many high school and university students fitting the criteria for one or both of the disorders than in decades past to Psychology Today. Researchers’ think that this is a result of a shift in values and goals. Rather than aspiring for personal success or growth, many young people have goals that are more materialistic like having a high income. Dr. Peter Gray, Ph.D, believes this shift has been caused by the decline of play. Gray states that children who are deprived of play miss out on the sense of self control they get from unstructured play, causing them to be more likely to develop depression or anxiety.
While there are consequences for children who do not play enough, there are many benefits for those who do. According to the Child Mind Institute, many studies have found that children who play outside are happier, smarter and less anxious. Specifically, playing outside builds confidence and promotes creativity as the unstructured nature of outdoor play means children have to use their imagination. From a physical standpoint, it’s gets kids moving helping to promote overall health. It has also been shown to reduce stress and fatigue.
Ultimately, children need to play outside and they need the unstructured environment that being outside provides. If you’re looking for some ways to motivate your child to play outside or want some ideas for activities, check out some of our other blog posts on the issue!