Media Savvy Kids & Nature Deficit Disorder

butterfly.jpgYoung kids may be getting media savvy earlier, but many have never seen a campfire or been on a hiking trail, and wouldn’t know a wilderness experience if it bit ‘em on the backside.

In fact, a British study akin to the ‘Ronald McDonald vs. the President’ face recognition phenom where kids could name the clown but not the nation’s leader found that 8-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name “otter, beetle, and oak tree.”

Even if you get them in the wilderness, some truly don’t know how to deal. Research is bearing this out…

Last Child in the Woods author Richard Louv talks of kids’ “nature deficit disorder” and I’m inclined to hike into his camp with full footed surety.

It’s amazed me repeatedly, whether teaching wildlife to brownie troops or asking first graders to sit still and hush in a grass field for only two minutes to observe the world around them coming alive.

They just can’t do it. They squirm and shift from boredom. They interrupt the silence. Want immediate gratification. Start whining, “I don’t see anything” as you shush them to point out the ant, the water droplet on the blade of grass, the breeze blowing the ladybug’s wings…

It’s as if their eyes don’t see anymore. Their ears don’t know how to pick up the frequency of the calm. The more urban and wired they become the more deaf and blind they are to the pleasures of pristine experiences.

Sure, emerging technology offers new tools and ways to interpret the world…but we need to “turn down the media volume” enough to understand what we’re LOSING as well as gaining.

Louv speaks of our “growing addiction to electronic media, the relinquishment of green spaces to development, parents’ exaggerated fears of natural and human predators, and also of nature providing powerful therapy for such maladies as depression, obesity, and ADD.”

Granted, Roosevelt got on this bandwagon first, but Louv adds new studies on the restorative qualities and positive benefits that media-hyped Millenials should NOT ignore. (just look at the Summer Search success I blogged about earlier, and what it did for the high schoolers who had never been exposed!)

Arguably, if you don’t expose kids early on, media prevalence will only increase in tween years and beyond, as the British study reiterated, “During their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokémon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50 per cent of common wildlife species.”

My tween daughter’s lucky enough to live on a funky island building tree forts, catching jacksmelt, wandering freely and playing in the muddy muck of the coastal shoreline, yet only minutes away from the City’s urban delights.

She’s outdoors with her posse of island pals constantly…But that’s RARE, for none of her suburban school peers are!

They shuttle to nonstop activities and live amidst manicured lawns and square fenced plots. They’re wired with the latest gizmos and are more apt to get their environmental education via science project or a roundup resource than a hike on a dirty trail.

Media’s great and kids love it, but children need to be in nature early and often. It’s integral for them to figure out how everything smushes together and one thing impacts another. From ecosystems and rainforests to famine, war, poverty, and pollution, children are unable to grok the whole ‘one world’ picture until we spell it out for them.

Sure, some kids will prefer indoor media to outdoor pleasures, but unless we make it our duty to expose them to the wonders of nature, there’s little hope they’ll ever give a flying fig.

We don’t protect what we don’t know, and that applies to the extinction of a species, a natural resource, or an entire culture.

Ironically, interactive info offers inspiring ideas, games, puzzles and clubs to get kids jazzed about being outdoors!

Here are a few positive picks of online & offline media to get kids to ‘take a hike’:

Print Media:

Sharing Nature with Children: An age-gauged book of fun ideas that engage kids in an eco-revealing way without the preach and teach banter. Perfect to toss in the glove box for an impromptu outdoor adventure, whether it’s the ‘web of life’ game or a scavenger hunt in a forest or a park, it details what you need, how many kids and which age it suits. It has a sequel that’s great too.

And here are a couple more that I like: Nature in a Nutshell for Kids: Over 100 Activities You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less

Kids Camp! Activities for the Backyard or Wilderness

Online Media:

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: This site has a wonderful round-up of a gazillion links and resources from online games and quizzes to conservation, animal/eco-friendly fun, and solid waste/gross out science, almost all geared to “tweens” 9-14.

The Green Dollhouse Project: Kids learn about sustainable building through energy efficiency, nontoxic materials, water conservation, and more. This one site is a portal of useful links to renown entities like the Rocky Mountain Institute where kids can explore the art of eco-design, ‘going green,’ and ‘living off the grid.’

Whole Foods for Kids, Healthy Snack Alternatives: Backpack with some decent chow, learn some basics on berry-picking, (what they look like and what to eat in the wild) & discover leaves, herbs and edibles found in nature for wilderness survival.



  1. Thanks for putting the spotlight on this issue. It has tremendous consequences in the long run. When 2nd graders whine that they don’t like going outdoors because “there’s no plugs for my toys” it’s high time we put on the brakes and raise some serious eyebrows…
    Check the Oct 06 issue of National Geographic and you’ll see what I mean. National Parks all over the world and under attack ( Forever preserved does not mean forever when pressures mount ) Other impacts of media – besides drowning in email and 453 TV channels,etc is the fact that camping is down 23% in National Parks ( who has the time? ) And we don’t protect what we don’t know or cherish, love & enjoy…
    And even all this new Media, like music, can’t be fully appreciated without the silence in between the notes.
    Sometimes it’s not enough to just “turn down the volume” –
    Sometimes it’s in the best interests of all concerned… to “pull out the plugs”
    Hmmmm Time to sign off and go hike out in nature! Thanks!
    Mark Joyous – Founder

  2. Thanks for the great article and resources. Inspired me to share a ritual the five year old and two year old I care for created together. We are lucky to live in a beautiful neighborhood in a small town in CA., within walking distance of the 5 year old’s elementary school.We tend to meander home stopping to (literally) smell the roses, and talk about things we notice in nature along the way. One day, while walking home from school, I noticed that it was even more quiet than usual on our street. I couldn’t hear cars, or gardeners, or planes- just quiet, and birds, and a water fountain. I stopped, and said, “Shhh! Listen,” and we all stopped for a few minutes and listened to the sounds of nature. A few days later, I was surprised when the two year old suddenly put his finger to his lips and said “Shhh!” We all stopped and listened. Then we took turns talking about what we heard. Now, we take turns reminding each other to stop and listen every day for a few minutes. It’s not always as quiet as it was on that first day, but I love this ritual we share. It seems to slow us all down, and connect us to the beauty of nature present in our own back yard.

  3. Oh, Lisa, that’s so important…I finished a hike today noting that the Bay Area is amazing in terms of multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-lingual walkers out there appreciating nature but one thing caught my eye…many of the solo and pair runners were ‘totally wired’ which I ‘get’ in terms of music/anthem/experiential soundtracks of life…

    BUT…they missed the rustle of the bush when the baby deer passed by, the squawk of the jay diving in and out of the tree branches…you know what I mean…the ‘shhhh’ part.

    To each their own, but it’s so cool that you are teaching them early on that EVERY sensory experience is worth a listen…and a ritual to back it up! Fun!

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