Are Your Kids Getting Enough Nature?

How Nature Helps Kids – Including Those With ADHD

With the impact of nature on health getting more and more attention, we interview Dr Kathleen Bagot about 'Nature Deficit Disorder' in children.

By Clare BruceMonday 24 May 2010Open House InterviewsParentingReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Dr Kathleen Bagot explains Nature Deficit Disorder and its effects.

You know about Attention Deficit Disorder in children, but have you heard of Nature Deficit Disorder? You or your kids may be suffering from it.

Nature writer Dr Richard Louv coined the term, and while it’s not a diagnosed medical condition, it describes the lack of connection to nature in our modern lifestyles.

One of Australia’s experts on the topic, environmental psychologist Dr Kathleen Bagot, chatted to Hope Media about how today’s kids aren’t getting enough time in nature—and how it’s affecting their social, physical and cognitive development.

“There’s lots of different anecdotal and scientific evidence about this,” she told Open House presenter Sheridan Voysey.

“People in my generation might have been sent outside and told to come back in when the street lights came on, whereas now we have two-thirds of young children not allowed outside their garden gate – because [parents] are afraid they’re going to be killed or kidnapped.

“The numbers of children who are outside in nature in their own community environments is decreasing, so their access to nature is decreasing.”

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The Downsides Of Too Much Indoor Time

Boy on couch with tablet

According to Dr Bagot, children who don’t get outside enough are facing a lot of negative outcomes. They include:

  • A lack of hands-on exploring time
  • Less chance to experiment with their hands
  • Poor development of long-distance sight
  • Less physical exercise
  • A lack of fresh air
  • Missing out on ‘awe’ experiences

“You’re missing out on lots of hands-on experience and exposure to exploring your own world, and unscheduled time – letting children try (and fail) to do things in their natural environment,” Dr Bagot said.

“We’re decreasing our exposure to things that can benefit us in a myriad of ways.”

She added that childrens’ eyesight has been negatively affected by constant exposure to screens and a lack of the focusing on horizons that happens outdoors.

Time In Nature Develops Childrens’ Creativity

Kids playing on lawn

If your children are lacking in imagination, it may help to simply get them outside to a park, a creek, a beach, or a nature reserve. It’ll allow their creative skills to develop without any effort.

Children have more creative types of play in nature, because nature speaks to their imagination. ~ Dr Kathleen Bagot

“Nature is so rich and complex and gives such a sense of wonder,” Dr Bagot said. “And children have more creative types of play because nature speaks to their imagination and lets them do more experimentation, so they’re able to develop different skills more so than with things that are less malleable. They’re able to imagine that a stick is many many things, while a Wii-box is just a Wii-box.”

Nature Even Reduces Crime Rates

A fascinating study conducted in the USA even showed that apartment blocks with vegetation around them experienced a 7-percent crime rate, said Dr Bagot.

“The argument is that exposure to nature, whether through a window view or where you walk or live, helps people to relax and be less stressed,” she said.

“You’re therefore able to handle what comes your way more easily and are therefore less likely to become aggravated and violent.”

A Walk In The Park Helps Kids With ADHD

Kids hiking

The world of medicine is realising the benefit of nature on human health, too. The Journal of Attention Deficit Disorders published a research article titled Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park.

The researcher, Andrea Faber Taylor from the University of Illinois, knew that exposure to the natural environment improved attention for the general population, and wanted to test whether it helped children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

She tested children with ADHD aged 7 to 12, by giving them 20-minute walks in various outdoor settings, and found that they concentrated better after the walk in the park than after the walks through urban and neighbourhood settings.

Ms Taylor concluded that ‘doses of nature’ could be used to help to manage ADHD symptoms.

The Streets Are Safer Than You Think

While many parents feel they are protecting their children by keeping them indoors, Dr Bagot said that protectiveness is sometimes excessive.

“It’s important to know that children in our streets are actually safer than they were decades ago,” she said. “But when the media reports a single occurrence because the media is everywhere, it gets told in a way that we think it happens all of the time.

“We should be concerned for our children and knowing where they are, but not to the detriment of them being able to develop and live and learn – and not on the premise of a fear that isn’t justified.”

Adults Need Nature Time Too

Family outdoors going on a picnic

Dr Bagot said both children and adults benefitted from exposure to nature and families should aim to spend time outdoors together.

“The benefits are physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and we get these benefits without even realising,” she said. “If you’re taking your kids to the park you will also get benefits as well.

“If you’re more relaxed, you’re less stressed. It’s been shown that you’re able to concentrate better after a period of time in a natural environment.”