Nature Deficit Disorder
Photo by Ksenia Makagonova

Nature Deficit Disorder: What Your Kids Lose By Not Playing Outside

This theory about the relationship between nature and behavioral problems in kids will have you thinking of writing a new prescription for your family. 

Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is a term that was first coined in "Last Child in the Woods," a book by Richard Louv, who was noticing a change in the way that our kids were growing up.

He realized that as a society, our interests and habits were changing. With that change, he also saw a rise in certain behavioral issues, especially in children.

As we become more technologically advanced, we are continuing to see a greater departure from nature.

The Shift

The demand for skills in technology is on the rise. So it only makes sense that we try to encourage our children to take an interest in these things. Interest is the first step in getting a kid to learn about something.

Future engineers play with blocks, chemists usually start in the kitchen, and trust me when I say the person fixing your computer was probably a gamer.

Combine that with more homework, extracurriculars, and higher education planning starting sooner, and there's a greater demand for a kid's time than ever before. Spending time outside becomes less of a priority as the payoff seems less obvious.

While the obesity epidemic has encouraged more kids to get outside and play, the shift in the way the average kid spends their time is glaring. Instead of playing outside naturally, we now have to find ways to get kids excited about playing outside.

The Issue

So what's the problem? If society is moving toward this kind of future, why point my kid in a different direction?

This is where Nature Deficit Disorder comes in. It's called a disorder for a reason. NDD can cause attention issues, behavioral problems, anxiety, and depression.

Louv originally postulated NDD with kids in mind, though I see little reason why it wouldn't also apply to adults.

Increases in children being diagnosed with attention and behavioral disorders have been on the rise, but rarely is a camping trip prescribed.

These issues make learning more challenging and life more stressful. Long-term sufferers will make choices based on managing these problems that will affect their entire lives, rarely just growing out of it.  

The Cause

So what causes NDD? According to the theory, we as a species developed with the natural world as an integral part of our daily lives. The mental, physical, and chemical benefits of spending time outdoors continue to be proven time and time again.

Take going for a simple walk outside. It's been proven that walking outside can help relieve stress and anxiety. It helps our brain work through issues and emotions subconsciously while experiencing a release of positive hormones triggered by the physical exertion.

If you're walking on a dirt surface, you may actually be stirring up soil particles that help to stimulate serotonin production, one of the chemicals in your brain responsible for feeling happy.

The lack of a natural connection seems to be treated with less regard. We simply brush it off with the notion that some people just aren't "outdoorsy".

Our bodies and brains were made in nature, meant to work together. The idea that separating them causes issues seems like a logical conclusion.

Those already suffering from NDD will likely feel as though they are under tremendous pressure. They feel stressed and frustrated. Not at all in the right mood to suddenly decide to start spending more free time outside. So it tends to cycle in on itself, making it harder and harder to change.

Final Thoughts

While Nature Deficit Disorder isn't a formally recognized medical diagnosis, it is an idea that many of us can relate to. We see the problems our kids are facing and worry about what may be missing from their lives.

No one wants their kids to grow up with anxiety or depression.

The best thing is that the solution is flexible, widely available, and typically affordable. Just get outside regularly and experience the great outdoors.

It doesn't matter if you're a hiker, a hunter, or just want to build tiny mud houses in the yard, as long as you are experiencing nature in a way that fulfills you.

Make it a routine to do something fun outside each week. It doesn't have to be extravagant. There is a ton of advice out there on games, ideas, and activities to occupy any age if you want to give your time a bit more structure. Plus it's a great way to connect as a family.

If you feel like you may personally have this issue, challenge yourself to make getting outdoors a priority. Sometimes setting a goal, such as taking a hike once a week, can help you stay focused. I like to challenge myself to go exploring and find one cool thing before I can head back home.

You may find that a simple change can affect you and your families entire lives in a positive way.