Kids Detached From Nature? Here's One Example

The Boring Woods of Sequoia Kings

Trees like 'General Sherman' in Sequoia/Kings are boring, so say the tween mall rats in California.

Think electronics aren't getting in the way of kids and nature? While it might not be true in every nook and cranny of the country, it is happening in some areas. Take California, for instance. Tommy Nguyen told the San Francisco Chronicle trees are pretty boring.

"I'd rather be at the mall because you can enjoy yourself walking around looking at stuff as opposed to the woods," Nguyen said from the comfort of the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall.

In Yosemite and other parks, he said, furrowing his brow to emphasize the absurdly lopsided comparison, "the only thing you look at is the trees, grass and sky."

This was the hook Chronicle staff writer Peter Fimrite used to get into Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods.

OK, we've all heard plenty about Mr. Louv's book the past two years; he's made a cottage industry out of it. So let's move on to some recent hard data. Again, here's a snippet from the Chronicle:

The nature gap is just as big a problem in California, where there are more state and national parks than anywhere else in the country. A recent poll of 333 parents by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 30 percent of teenagers did not participate in any outdoor nature activity at all this past summer. Another 17 percent engaged only once in an outdoor activity like camping, hiking or backpacking.

The numbers coincide with national polls indicating that children and teenagers play outdoors less than young people did in the past. Between 1997 and 2003, the proportion of children ages 9 to 12 who spent time hiking, walking, fishing, playing on the beach or gardening declined 50 percent, according to a University of Maryland study.

The story goes on to blame urbanization, video games, fear of nature, even higher park entrance fees for the trend.

Fortunately, folks are trying to reverse this trend. Groups such as the National Park Service, which is working with others on outreach, the Outdoor Industry Association, and other conservation groups.

For more information on what's being done and what can be done, check out the Children and Nature Network.

Comments

Kurt, I saw this news article in the San Francisco Chronicle (10/22/07) and I thought of sending it you. But, I figured you probably had the article on your front desk before the day would be over. I guess I was right, there's nothing more distressing then seeing are young children more detached and oblivious to nature every day. I see the kids in my very neighbor that have that blankty-blank look of what's nature and so what, or show me the nearest mall and I'm one happy camper. Geez, all I can say, we have a long, long ways to go with these kids. Iv'e seen what nature can really do to heal these children from that numb spaced out look. I give you much credit Kurt for bringing this issue to the public light. When we are wasting billions of dollars on a sicking war that should of never happened, we are in the mean time wasting children away from a lack of good quality health and dental care, decent housing, clean air, and child brutality...you name it! The bottomless war chest (for Bushs corporate buddies) goes un-checked while are kids are starving for holistic conscientious care and simple basic needs. Who do we blame?

Who to blame? Their parents, of course. Children who are introduced to the wonders of nature at an early age like going to National Parks. Children who are plunked down in front of a video game grow up liking video games.
The other contenders aren't factors. Fear of nature? Only kids who've never been out in nature, fear nature. That's not a reason but an outcome. Urbanization has been going on for decades. Higher park entrance fees? For kids who have $300 video games? No.

Sending your kids out into nature requires more parenting than just setting them in front of the TV. You have to go with them and get exercise yourself. Kids age 9-12 can't just be sent outside to play anymore (except in the backyard) by themselves. We've cranked up the fear level so high over pedophiles, kidnappers, and missing children that any parent who did that would be viewed as negligent. Then parents have to make sure their kids are sunscreened every few hours. You can't just send the kid outside to get burned and risk skin cancers as they grow up. They have to be in cell phone contact with the parents if they're out by themselves or again, you'd be looked at as a bad parent.

To be a good parent today requires that you be more protective of your kid. In the 'olden day's good parents sent their kids outside to play all day, no phone, no sunscreen, nothing and didn't worry so long as they came back by dark. Not today.

I was in a national park in Europe this past weekend. And only 15 miles from a major city with a million residents I was able to experience total silence, save the occasional warbling warbler or pecking woodpecker, or my own footsteps. As the day warmed up, families started appearing here and there on the trails and not a single one of them annoyed me in that special way only ugly Americans can seem to annoy. No screaming at the top of their lungs, no throwing rocks at the wildlife, no swinging from the tree branches -- just a bunch of families out enjoying the outdoors together, singing songs, roasting things over the fire, poking sticks in the mud, tossing pebbles in the lake. What's happened to us?

Merryland:

Where were you?

I worked at a national park in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer and experienced the same situation as you. None of the Bulgarian national parks had paved roads; they built visitor centers OUTSIDE the park. That's not to say that the parks there didn't have problems or issues, just that they were generally more peaceful and natural.

Welcome back Merryland to the real world of a hyper-ventilating society with tantrums to throw in with the spoil kids. It seems the general poplace in Europe do a much better job in educating there children to "tread softly and leave no rock unturned" than we do...I wonder why! I know that European outdoor flavor very well. Welcome back and skoal!

Yes, visitor center -- OUTSIDE the park. Parking lot -- outside the park, and you walked INTO the park from there. Wow, what a concept! And no car required all day long. I took the train, then the bus, and it drops you off right there at the entrance.

It was Tyresta Nationalpark, south of Stockholm.

The Park Service's latest crisis is lack of interest in nature--and therefore, national parks--among America's youth. It seems juveniles are too enamored with computers, cell phones, and ipods to care about national parks. Could it be that the Jetsons have finally usurped the Flinstones in popularity?

While it saddens me that proportionately fewer and fewer kids seem interested in national parks, I'm not altogether convinced that NPS strategies to reach them will be very effective.

And what are those strategies? To break kids away from their computers, cell phones and ipods, the NPS is now spending bucket loads of tax dollars on....drum roll, please...computer field trips, cell phone tours, and podcasts!

But wait, there's more...

...painfully more. Part of the problem may be because significant numbers of NPS employees themselves are no different from the kids they're trying to reach. Non-NPS readers may be shocked to learn that many, many park rangers are more content to gawk at their computers, blab on their cell phones, or diddle with their ipods than to directly connect with nature. Many NPS rangers I've known seem disinclined to look at a bird, marvel at a rock formation, or explore an old fort. In fact, I've personally witnessed NPS rangers who are uncomfortable (even afraid) when exposed to nature!

In Simple Proposal #2 I discussed the lack of knowledge and enthusiasm many NPS employees have for their places (while I made sure to acknowledge the notable exceptions). I proposed that NPS staff be REQUIRED to learn about and directly connect with their sites.

Simple Proposal #9: Before connecting others to national parks, try connecting yourself first!

Given the distance that most NPS units are from major population centers (most) again, I don't feel this is NPS' problem. It is a larger problem altogether.

I live in an area with much public lands surrounding an urban area and the percentage of people who DON'T use it versus those who do it quite stunning.

One quick comment, though, about the article. I lead tons of children on outings and once they get away from the parking lot, there is a quick and distinct change... quoting a kid from a mall talking about nature (that is, if i read the article right) is just a kitschy way to put a hook into a story. Give the kids a few minutes and their brains shift, the questions begin and they would never say that again. You just need a good guide/leader/interpreter or whatever to make them comfortable, set the context (they often have zero context coming from the city) and tie it back to stuff they are learning in the classroom.

Bart you couldn't be more right. I remember a newbie that I was training to become a backcountry ranger (I later learned that she thought it would be a quick path to a law enforcement career) and she insisted that I always walk in the lead because she was terrified of spider webs and snakes. It was a shocking event in my park at the time when I later fired her. The proposed sex discrimination lawsuit died in its tracks when it was learned by her counsel that I had replaced her with another female who didn't mind hiking near spiders and actually liked the scenery in the backcountry. The time I was required to spend documenting her obvious incompetence could've been used to train five other employees.

30 percent of teenagers did not participate in any outdoor nature activity at all this past summer. Another 17 percent engaged only once in an outdoor activity like camping, hiking or backpacking

Should could serve to lessen the blow, or it could give you the urge to toss your cookies, but this "out of the outdoors" mindset shouldn't be taken as unique to wilderness adventures. I get a 14 week case of acid reflux and high blood pressure every spring managing Little League and Pony League baseball. Trying to teach kids how to play a game on grass, not on TV, that they never practice during the off-season is the height of frustration for someone who lived and died with sports through and slightly beyond college. The quality of play is beyond poor, and there is absolutely NO concept of baseball acumen (e.g., proper positioning to field a ball, what base to throw to, or for that matter how to throw period, base running skills, situational hitting, etc.) or acumen for most any sport. It is my firm belief that the parents sign the kid up to get him out of the house and away from the video garbage for a few hours a week, and when he gets hurt misplaying a ball in the field, it's MY fault! When he gets hit by a pitch that he could easily have avoided by moving his feet, there's parental bloodlust for the pitcher! And God forbid their precious little one doesn't merit All-Star selection. The above scenario applies to approximately 10/12 kids I coach every year. That's right at 83-84%. Which just so happens to coincide with the 17% of kids who hit the trails a mere uno times a year.

But don't place all the blame on the doorstep of the kid. The parents, yes the "us" generation, have to facilitate the kids access to the Gameboy, X-Box, Playstation, i-Pod, PDA's and the like, as I've yet to hear of a child being born, checkbook in hand. And why do we do it? Simple question, complex answer. Books can be written on this topic. Some of it has to do with keeping the kids quiet and out of the way while we work at home, play on OUR computers, or engage in the ever-popular R&R. Sedentary lifestyles in children are ever so closely related to behavioral traits observed in their parents. And how many kids, left to their own devices, are going to choose the hard way to engage an activity versus the easy way? The brutal truth is it's way easier to get a group of kids together to play online, or 4 controllers in a game system than it is to get those little buggers to break a sweat throwing or chasing a ball. You wouldn't believe how many times I've heard, "it's too hot to play outside", when temperatures are in the 80's. What wimpy attitudes we've created!
As I stated in another post on a different issue, if you want to increase park attendance within the younger generation, target the parents. If you can get the lazy, overweight, out of shape parental units involved, well, let's face it, once you throw the kids in the car, they don't have much choice about the destination, do they?

I'm so glad this topic has finally came up. For years I've noticed children no longer playing out in their neighborhoods during the summer. I have said that it almost looks like an atomic bomb went off...where is everyone?? I'm talking suburbs, country & inner cities (not as bad). I laugh the way people cry the blues when winter never seems to end here in northern Ohio........but when it gets here, where is everyone? Even the summer holidays, where are all the cook-outs? Memorial Day I drove around & did not see one family outside having a cook-out. We have a wonderful park system here in Cleveland & the place used to be loaded with picknickers. I rarely see them anymore. When I was young, we went picknicking every weekend.....& didn't mind driving 40 miles to get there! Kids need to get outside & watch the ants (a favorite childhood thing I did..LOL), maybe get a bird feeder & watch the birds & see which ones will visit, maybe help mom in the garden....the list goes on. As u can tell, I was raised outdoors; drove from Ohio to Grand Tetons, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Colorado, with a tent on top of our car (in the 60's). And there were no showers at the camp sites in those days. I once read that one of the best cures for depression is to get in touch with nature!

WELL MY KIDS GO CAMPING AND FISHING AND FLOATING "KAYAKING" ABOUT 25 WEEKENDS A YEAR BECAUSE WE TAKE THEM
AFTER 3 YEARS THEY ARE TIRED OF IT BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS AT THE MALL AND THEY FEEL THEY ARE MISSING OUT ON SOMETHING BUT THEY HAVE SURE MET A LOT OF FRIENDS AT THE RIVER MOST KIDS AT SCHOOL CALL MY 11 YEAR OLD A LIAR ABOUT WHAT SHE DID LAST WEEKEND BUT SHE HAS FLOATED THE BUFFALO AND MULBERRY RIVERS IN ARKANSAS AMONG MANY OTHERS HAS HER OWN KAYAK AND FLY FISHES FOR TROUT AND CAN LIMIT OUT MY SON ALSO DOES THE SAME
BUT STILL ME AND MY WIFE WILL SAY DO YOU REMEMBER BEING KIDS AND MOM AND DAD WERE AT CAMP AND WE WERE RUNNING AROUND WELL NOT ANYMORE IT'S MOM AND DAD RUNNING AROUND AND THE KIDS SETTING IN CAMP I THINK MOSTLY BECAUSE IT ISN'T THE NORM TO BE CAMPING AND YES WHEN THEY GET HOME THEY IMMEDIATELY TURN ON THE TV'S
BUT SETTING AROUND A CAMPFIRE WITHOUT TV'S TO DISTRACT EVERYONE FROM REAL COMMUNICATION YOU GET TO KNOW YOUR KIDS WELL AND WHEN YOU GET HOME YOU WILL NOTICE THE TV SEPARATES ALL TO THEIR OWN LIKES AND DIFFERENCES THE TV IS WHAT DESTROYS FAMILY AND I LIKE IT AS WELL AS THE NEXT GUY BUT WE ARE NUMB TO WHAT IT IS DOING TO US WHAT IS YOU KID WATCHING RIGHT NOW AND
YOU CAN'T BLAME THAT ON GEORGE BUSH OR THE WAR TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS

Simple acts like walking or riding a bike to school are also becoming a thing of the past. Kill your TV. Our Christmas season has been so pleasant around our house without cable TV these past 5-6 years. When the kids aren't sure what they want for Christmas and ask mom and dad for ideas, that's a GOOD thing. That means the media giants don't have a stranglehold on them. That means the media superpowers haven't driven a wedge between we the parents and our own kids, and that's a good thing too.

All good points in this discussion. Just to add a bit more substances to the subject from a personal observation viewed today. While heading out to the local Baylands to observe nature in it's fall pattern of bird migration, I couldn't quite get mind off the local golf course ( adjacent to the refuge) which was super busy for Thursday afternoon. The course was pack to the gills with dot comers, business people and old retired farts...most were net working and playing less golf. Very noticeable from the wildlife refuge. It occurred to me while remembering this blog (Kids Detached from Nature) why is this beautiful refuge so empty, when the golf course is so busy, especially when folks are so squirreled up with stress these days. Then I thought of them as hard working parents and wondered about their value system. Is everthing about money and networking, and the most important places to be at the lunch hour....is the golf course? Just a nice walk away, you can commune with nature, and perhaps touch your soul a bit while at the refuge...bear in mind, the refuge was almost void of people. I guess nature takes a back seat to money and it certainly look that way today. Well, in regards to the poor detached kids from nature...I didn't have to look far to see why! I guess the game of golf and making money is far more important then being at the refuge center and learning something about nature, and maybe learn something about yourself in the process, and perhaps teaching your kids something about the web of life...instead of the importance of making a web of money, procuring more frivolous toys and things. So, so meaningless when you have children that can't feel or assimilate with nature today. Such a tragic travesty!

It seems important in discussions like this to try and remember what it's like to be a kid. Trees are, to nearly all kids, really pretty boring. It's not until later in life that the subtle appeal of passively studying the natural world holds much appeal. But kids do love to explore, ride bikes, play in the woods when they're given opportunities. Recreation builds an affinity for natural places, which later in life translates into respect and interest in the subtlities of natural landscapes. Remember that most of the great naturalists of the 20th century -- Muir, Brower, etc. -- started out as climbers, hikers, explorers. The reason, in my view, kids are often turned off by national parks is that they're presented as cathedrals, and not as playgrounds.

I disagree that all you need is to take the kids outdoors and and they start liking it. I have taken dozens of children out in beautiful places. Children who are not exposed to nature in a somewhat regualr basis will not jsut transform within moments being outside. I hear a lot of whining, "when are done " , "I like to go home now", there are too many bugs", "this is boring", "I hate khiking", "this is so boring, I don't want to be here". I could just go on and on.

The majority of children I know spend a wast amount of time on comuter and TV. They are lierally parked in fron of it. It usually starts with the " I got my kids some educational games".

Parents nowadays are so competetive and they often dont see the value in just letting their kids getting dirty in the creek. Richard Louv who wrote the last child in the woods reports that children bond best with nature by free play and exploring.Adults often need to have gools in mind when out in nature. " I like to hike 2.5 Miles today" . There is no time for for play on the hike.There needs to be more education for parents. Yes it does require some work. Kids who are reluctant to play outside will need some structure to begin with such as building a swing, swinging in a hammock in between trees or doing a treasure hunt. I expose my son to nature every day, once he played freely in the woods his curiosity just kicked in and now he just wants to learn everything and now he is having so much emathy for other living things , He is such an awesomehuman being.

I think that's an excellent point by Anonymous of 11:32 a.m. on July 16, and so is Mark E.'s immediately preceding observation, which he posted almost five years ago.

The model of trying to get kids to adapt at the outset to their grandparents' earnest and reverential attitude toward wildlands as outdoor "cathedrals" (to quote Mark E.) seems to have proven itself ineffective. As Anonymous observes, only after you've let kids do what they want to do, which is often going to mean something other than hiking, will they become interested in the setting and perhaps become interested in conservation later.

Obviously there has to be a balance. Kids can't just go around digging things up, littering, harassing wildlife, shooting BB guns, and starting fires. That challenge should be quite manageable, however, in capable hands.

Today's New York Times has an online discussion that's related to what people have been discussing in this thread:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/07/14/when-parents-hover-and-kids-dont-grow-up/?hp

It goes to what Anonymous of two posts ago contended: "Parents nowadays are so competitive and they often don't see the value in just letting their kids get dirty in the creek."

It goes farther than what the author and the article is willing to go although the reasons for the young's disconnect listed are part of it. There is an effort by those that in effect, want to limit the real connections that often become transformational experiences in our Parks with, perhaps, an over emphasis on look but don't touch attitude. Not talking about the extremes here but there are some that like to further the argument that they must protect the resource "from" people while the young are seeking a more interactive (hate that term as it relates to internet and the electronics). The transformational experience of growing to completely absorb these great places is often also accompanied by the increasingly unbridled laughter (and openness) by young people because of their mules passing gas going down the trail. Kids like real and don't usually receive the environmental lingo as something other than another rule unless it gets their attention. The Mule Rides into the Canyon and the Raft Trips are the best examples I can think of. I've seen the results in both the young, people of all ages, many with severe physical and emotional challenges. I appreciate the challenges allowing access to the special opportunities while also considering the resource. I know it quite well. Respect for the resource comes with the opportunities.