In his book The Last Child in the Woods, the journalist and columnist Richard Louv makes a disturbing observation: children are less often in contact with nature, and this creates a disorder that the author calls the “nature-deficit disorder”, or NDD (NDLR: which we could translate by a “deficit disorder linked to a deficiency in nature”). Supported by scientific studies and interviews with parents and environmentalists, he demonstrates the virtues of just being outdoors. His book is a vibrant plea for regular and lasting contact with nature.
Manouane Beauchamp: How did you discover what you called “nature-deficit disorder”?
Richard Louv: At the end of the 80s, I was doing research to understand what it could be to be a child in the United States. This is how I observed profound changes: not only do people spend less time with their families, but fear of others, of strangers (“stranger danger”), pushes parents to keep children. inside the house rather than sending them outside to play. In short, this study showed that children spent a lot of time locked between four walls, further reducing their contact with nature. One of the comments that came up often was that people noticed a difference in the way their children saw nature. These observations were often made by parents who remembered spending most of their childhood in the woods. But since they were unable to name this finding exactly, I deliberately decided to ignore these remarks.
It wasn’t until later that I figured out what it was about: The parents had grown up in the wild, while their children were growing up in the house. Over the past thirty years, the area of land where children can move around without the immediate supervision of their parents has decreased by 90%. And since only 30% of the urban US population live within a reasonable distance of a park, it’s easy to imagine that children are less and less often in the presence of natural green space. In the space of 30 years, the relationship between nature and children has therefore changed profoundly, and this movement is accelerating. This is what I called the “nature-deficit disorder” syndrome.
Manouane Beauchamp: Should we then condemn the computer and electronic games?
Richard Louv: No, not at all. I am not a person who is going to say that the technology is bad. The proof: I love my computer and my kids play electronic games. I’m just saying that we have to establish harmony. Contact with nature helps maintain a physiological and psychological balance in children. Studies show that young people who spend time playing outdoors exhibit greater creativity and develop a cooperative attitude in the way they have fun and behave in general. Not to mention that they have less problems related to attention deficit in class. And parents are just as likely to enjoy nature if they go out with their children, if only to watch them. Nature is very important for the development of human beings, regardless of their age.
Manouane Beauchamp: Have you observed whether this phenomenon is also occurring in Canada and Quebec?
Richard Louv: Unfortunately, my research has focused on what is happening in the United States. Today, I regret not having observed the trends elsewhere, in Canada and in Europe, but since I had no idea that the book would have this success, I did not take the time to do so. Having said that, while talking to people, I realized that NDD occurs as well in Canada as it does elsewhere on the planet. I also know that Canada is doing a better job than us to counter this phenomenon. A few months ago, I visited Royal Roads University in Victoria, where I was invited to speak. People were very concerned about these phenomena.
Manouane Beauchamp: Does your book primarily relate to groups that campaign for the protection of the environment?
Richard Louv: The book was made in the hope that environmental groups would take over. But he came to join a lot more people than I had imagined. It elicited positive responses from citizen groups who organized regional awareness campaigns. For my part, I had to respond to more than 2,000 invitations to speak. The fact that the book is having some success is, in itself, reassuring. Thus, people are likely to be able to recognize this “nature-deficit disorder” in their children and act on it. And that’s where I’m happy with the success of the book, because it raised the alarm bells.
Manouane Beauchamp: Are there solutions to counter NDD?
Richard Louv: Some emerging concepts, as I discuss in my book, offer solutions. This trend comes mainly from the Scandinavian countries which incorporate nature into the development of town planning. These solutions range from green roofs to recycling rainwater. Personally, I am very interested in the idea of rethinking the city as it currently exists in order to incorporate nature into the urban fabric because it is an easily achievable solution in the short term.
Manouane Beauchamp: You also encourage people to go out despite their fears…
Richard Louv: Yes, there are risks out there, like getting bitten by a snake. But there are also risks in not wanting to go out into the wild. We have to force ourselves to go out, if only to meet the neighbors as well as the community in which we live. Right now, the main risk we face is to observe a decrease in the life expectancy of a complete generation because of its propensity to spend too much time inactive. Some pediatricians even argue that the next generation will have a lower life expectancy than adults who lived before WWII.
Manouane Beauchamp: What keeps you optimistic?
Richard Louv: In the first place, it is the reception that was given to this book. This is already a very good sign. This confirms what many people thought without being able to express it clearly. Now they can talk about it in a much more defined way. Second, over the past two years, more and more organizations are setting up awareness campaigns about the NDD phenomenon. I feel like we are moving in the right direction.
This interview was published in the journal Espaces in June 2007.
LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS;
SAVING OUR CHILDREN FROM NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER
Algonquin Books, New York, 2005, 336 pages.
EcoAmbassadeurs is a non-profit organization providing bilingual services in the fields of health, education, entreprenuership and ecology. Our goal is to support the members of our community for their social, economic and civic development.
Subscribe to our Newsletter to receive our latest news.