Many kids today are suffering from what Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder,” because they spend so little time there. Studies show that a caring connection to nature may predict how we treat each other and the natural world around us.
Why Kids Need to Get Outside
Researchers at Cornell found that, when children before the age of 11 spend time hiking, camping, hunting and/or fishing, they grow into adults who care more about the environment than those who don’t.
Other research has found that spending time outside helps the brain to recover from overload. It has a restorative effect on the brain, reducing stress. This type of restoration plays a role in people’s actual enjoyment of nature, too. Researchers have found that kids in schools with play yards that had more natural elements had more pro-nature attitudes, which were tied to more pro-environmental behavior.
Children naturally seem to identify with animals and nature from a young age. Parents can encourage these connections and love of animals by introducing them to wildlife in their area, bringing a pet into the home, visiting nature and game preserves, and reading them stories that feature animals and nature in positive ways. Children who develop empathy for animals tend to be more caring towards people, too.
There’s a lot, of course, we don’t know about what makes kids want to protect the environment. But surely we can’t do any harm by simply making sure our kids get outside. We do know that we all benefit from such exposure, from improvements to physical health to feelings of serenity and mental well-being.
In the end if our kids also end up turning out the lights more or growing up to feel more responsible for our environment, all the better!