Parenting

Why Nature Deficit Disorder scares me

Is Nature Deficit Disorder a real thing? Jennifer thinks so — and she needs your help to "cure" this generation of children.

Jen’s daughter Gillian explores the great outdoors.

I’m very skeptical of any study which claims that today’s generation of children are doomed.

Whether it’s research revealing how childhood obesity is on the rise or how media consumption leads to kids behaving badly, I don’t often worry that parents today are raising violent, unhealthy and demanding brats. However, if you only scanned newspaper headlines, that’s what you’d be led to believe. But it’s quite the opposite. I strongly believe that you and I are parenting the most powerful and inspirational generation of kids who will truly make the world a better place to live. Call me crazy, but all around me I see parents feeding their kids the best foods they can and letting them freely explore the world around them.

However, my excitement about today’s kids being tomorrow’s change-makers took a hit with two simple Google searches: bullfrogs and bogs.

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On a recent trail run, I found the biggest frog I’d ever seen — as big as a dinner plate and heavy enough that he made sort of a “splopping” sound when he jumped, while I chased him to take a picture. The books we have at home about frogs has illustrations instead of photographs and I wanted to compare the picture I took to a picture online. The first few web search results were for a company, not the critter.

Next was a search for bogs, on advice from a neighbour who said there was a bog near our house full of carnivorous plants and Sphagnum moss. Since they are fascinated with smelly and weird things, our kids asked where the bog was so we could take a day trip to see it. So I Googled “bogs near Peterborough.” Instead of information about bogs as a natural habitat, the first page of search results was filled with information about Bogs Footwear, and where I could buy them.

Apparently, Nature Deficit Disorder — something I had thought was another invented malady — is real. The fact that something amazing that happens in nature appears only after a man-made product during a Google search makes me think the next generation may just be doomed after all.

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I believe there is a strong relationship between confidence and curiosity — and nature is what links them. When we give kids apps instead of opportunities we smother their natural instinct to explore.

My motivation for moving from Winnipeg to Ontario’s cottage country three years ago was largely based on the desire for our children to spend as much time as possible outdoors — and I’m lucky to have a front yard filled with frogs to catch so our family literally learns about nature with a hands-on approach. I love the fact that Gillian and Isaac are so dirty from a day spent playing outdoors that they need a nightly scrub down. I don’t even mind the slivers in their shins from climbing trees or the fact that the bottom of their socks are a shade of grey best described as “dirty driveway.” I know not every parent is as adventurous as me when it comes to outdoor play — and I understand that filthy socks are a strange thing to be proud of as a mom. But if society wants the next generation of children to live in a cleaner world where people genuinely care about each other, I think eliminating Nature Deficit Disorder in our lives is the first real step.

And happily, the “cure” for Nature Deficit Disorder is right outside your front door — the simple act of letting your kids get dirt under their fingernails and run free.

I want to hear — and see — how your family explores the outdoors. Tweet me at @jenpinarski and follow my Instagram feed to see what kind of creatures I’m finding in my backyard.