Children and Nature: Growing Estranged

Children and Nature: Growing Estranged
My dad taught me years ago we don’t plant trees for ourselves, we plant them for our grandchildren. It was the most important lesson he ever taught me — living my life today as if the future matters.

In my role as chairman of the Three Rivers Park Board, I have come to appreciate his farsighted philosophy even more. It’s not simply about planting trees. It’s about a commitment to long-term stewardship — of our environment, and for our children.

A book was published a few years ago making this very point. “Last Child in the Woods” documents the importance of direct exposure to nature for developing the physical and emotional health of children. Among the startling factoids:

• By the 1990s, the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970.

• Today, average 8-year-olds are better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community.

• The rate at which doctors prescribe antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years, and recent studies show that too much computer use spells trouble for the developing mind.

The subtitle of “Last Child in the Woods” is “Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” I’m pretty sure that’s not a diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, but it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature.

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