Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nature Deficit Disorder - Striking a Balance

You may be a parent who often encourages, or makes, your child go outside to play to combat Nature Deficit Disorder--a phrased coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.  While accepting kudos for your efforts, please consider these questions: 
Did you enjoy playing outside as a child? 
What is your favorite memory of playing outside as a child? 
What was your favorite place to play outside? 
How often did you play outside?
Now that you have conjured up some happy images from your childhood (most everyone has happy memories of playing outside) ask yourself this question: Did you play outside more than your child does now?

I was at an environmental conference when I first asked myself this question.  I got off of my smug high-horse and admitted that my children don't play outside nearly as much as I used to do.  I blame it on the usual electronic suspects and my own busyness or apathy.  However, it was Richard Louv himself who hit on the real reason my own children fell  short on the play-outside-meter.  Safety.  Stranger danger, child-kidnappings, bicycle safety, germs, increased auto traffic and the associated peer pressure all made me into a mother who curbs outdoor exploration.

While listening to Mr. Louv speak earlier this year about the fear factor that goes with outdoor play, I whispered 'yes'.  I knew it was the deeper reason I didn't just let the kids wander around our environs to happily explore, poke, splash and create on their own.   I could always use a little more time to myself while the kids are engaged in something, so why wasn't I letting them engage?  Fear.

I've been monitoring their outdoor play for so long that now that they are finally of an age to experience a little more outdoor freedom, they are hesitant to do so.  The only way around this has been to strike a balance.  I make sure they know the safety associated with an outdoor situation, they ask a few questions, then they set-off.  I can see the transformation in their demeanor once we get past the oh-know-what-dangers-lurk-here phase.  They scamper away or hop on their bikes and even though they are 'big kids' their delight makes them look more childish somehow.  I feel a pang of guilt as they set-off, but I console myself when I think about how this, like most things in life, is a compromise and is part of striking the balance.     

To find out more about Richard Louv and the Children and Nature Network:

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