It’s no secret that kids today are spending much of their free time in front of screens. Whether it’s TV, Computer, or Gaming systems, it seems that parents have accepted or even welcomed these new ways to keep their kids busy for hours on end.
Recently, I read the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The book discusses a problem in modern society that Louv labels, Nature-Deficit Disorder. The term seems almost self-explanatory, but the book does a fine job of explaining why we should care about nature. When I had finished, I felt as if adults and children alike would greatly benefit from getting outdoors, immediately. Here’s why.
A Few Reasons
1. Going outdoors is good for your physical health.
With electronic forms of entertainment becoming so widely used and abused, sedentary lifestyles and obesity are on the rise in the United States. Playing outdoors provides parents and kids alike with the chance to get some exercise. Furthermore, parent-child bonding over a bike ride or game of tag is much more meaningful and memorable to a child than a few hours spent killing zombies.
2. Going outdoors relieves stress.
The physical benefits of going outside and exercising are a no-brainer, but what about mental health benefits? According to Louv, studies have shown that exposure to nature relieves stress. If one thing is proven to facilitate unhappiness, stress is that thing. Stress levels have risen steadily in America over the past couple decades, and many probably do not even realize the benefits that a peaceful natural setting could have in store for them.
3. Spirituality is enhanced by time spent in nature.
Over the years, many prominent writers and philosophers have harped on the spiritual benefits of nature. Famous transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau was especially vocal about this. Thoreau’s religion primarily consisted of a deep appreciation for nature. He believed that examination of the most basic necessities of life is key to eliminating worries that should not be burdening the mind.
How I Feel
I was especially moved by Louv’s book because of my upbringing. I am fortunate enough to have a father who loves nature. As far back as I can remember, he and I have spent priceless quality time together outdoors.
I remember him pushing me on the swing set. I remember showing him my fort in the bushes behind our house. I remember him climbing trees with me. I remember building snow forts and having snowball fights. I remember him taking me fishing. I remember sitting around countless bonfires. I remember him telling me amazing stories from his youth of exploding beaver dams, jumping from bridges, and swimming in the river.
I remember him teaching me to shoot a gun. I remember him taking me camping for the first time. I remember many hikes. I remember catching frogs, snakes, and turtles. I remember him showing me interesting trees and cool rocks. I remember kayaking on the local river and the Great Lakes.
When I look back at all of those memories, tears well in my eyes. I cherish those times and feel very blessed to have such an amazing father who instilled in me an appreciation for the outdoors. He passed on more than just an appreciation. He passed on a legacy. I know that his father was a devout outdoorsman as well, and I feel proud to continue the tradition.
I know that I will one day do the same for my children, and I know in my heart that it is something very special. I could talk all day about the “scientifically-proven” benefits of nature, but I can say that beyond those, outdoor experiences are invaluable for the relationships they can foster. All parents would be wise to share their outdoor stories and spend time outdoors with their children.
When they look back on their lives, they will not remember the eighth season of American Idol or the countless hours on Facebook. They will remember the times where they knew they were loved and knew that life was good. There is no better way to create those memories than by taking them outdoors.
With today’s rapid urbanization and media portrayal of the outdoors as dangerous and unknown, it is easy for parents to be reluctant to take their kids outside. Despite remembering their times outdoors as youth, parents are idly sitting by as their kids play video games for hours on end.
The benefits of outdoor play are widely publicized. Not just that, but people are always nostalgic when discussing their time in nature as a child. For these reasons, it is essential that parents take their kids outdoors. I sincerely doubt that you will regret it.