nature deficit disorder

Does your child suffer from “nature-deficit disorder”?

Parents, there’s a new problem in town. It’s contagious, can wreak havoc on our children’s health and it’s spreading fast. The good news? There’s an easy cure.

We’re talking about ‘nature deficit disorder’.

What is nature deficit disorder?

Nature deficit disorder is the idea that humans, especially children, are spending less time outdoors than they used to, which results in a wide range of behavioural problems.

Nature deficit disorder is a term coined by San Diego-based child advocacy expert Richard Louv. He is the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, and chairman and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network. The term is not a medical diagnosis, but describes “the human costs of alienation from nature”. In his book, he references studies which show that humans (and children in particular) can suffer from physical and emotional distress (including anxiety, depression, attention disorders and obesity) without regular immersion in nature.


What causes nature deficit disorder?

It’s simple – nature deficit disorder is caused by too little time spent outside. It’s a symptom of our times, which are typified by over-scheduled kids, over-protective parents, poor urban planning, disappearing open space and too much screen time.

Think about the time you spent outdoors when you were a child – for many people growing up a few decades ago, parents would leave their kids to their own devices to go explore, with just one instruction to “be back before dinner”. These days, this is rarely the case.

The symptoms of nature deficit disorder

  • Attention difficulties
  • Diminished use of the senses
  • Obesity
  • Higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses
  • Weak ecological literacy and advocacy

Most people will agree that attention disorders and depression in children are on the rise. Louv has noticed a trend linking kids who don’t get nature-time, with anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems.

This has been backed up by a University of Illinois study which found that interaction with nature reduces symptoms of ADD in children. According to this study, exposing children to ordinary natural settings in common after-school and weekend activities may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms.

The impact of nature deficit disorder on the future

Because they have spent so little time enjoying it, many kids of today lack respect for their immediate natural surroundings. In the future, this rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature may have profound implications for both the health of future generations and the health of the Earth itself.

The benefits of regular exposure to nature

Both children and adults can benefit from spending more time in nature.

  • Better health overall; for example, lower blood pressure and reduced stress.
  • Treats depression
  • Improves emotional, mental and spiritual health
  • Encourages more physical activity
  • Increased environmental awareness.

How to overcome this disorder

Louv suggests that he has seen positive effects from treating nature deficit disorder in children, such a better attention span, stress reduction, more creativity, better cognitive development, and a sense of wonder and connection to the Earth.

Nature deficit disorder can be reversed and it’s easy to do so – get your kids to spend more time outdoors exploring nature! This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to take your kids to your local nature reserve every day. Spending time in nature can be as simple as looking for bugs in the garden, playing sport outside, spending time listening to the birds calling. In fact, the more unstructured the time in nature is, the better.

Think about how you feel after you’ve spent time in nature – its immensity can make your problems seem small and insignificant, and its beauty can speak directly to the soul. In South Africa, we are so fortunate to be surrounded by natural beauty and open spaces. We also enjoy generally mild weather, which means that it’s pleasant to be outside and enjoy nature all year round, and soak up the sun.

Let your kids learn with nature, one of our greatest teachers

At Tugela Trails, we believe that being outdoors is an essential part of being a kid – nature is a teacher, a healer, a nurturer… and a whole lot of fun. Our camps are designed to push kids out of their comfort zones, into the natural world, and into a space of learning about the outdoors, and about themselves. Get in touch to find out more about our holiday and school camps.

‘nature deficit disorder’