I was recently interviewed for a local news channel where the reporter asked me, “What should people do to help Hill Country Conservancy preserve land, water and wildlife?” To me, the answer was obvious, but I didn’t have the opportunity to really flesh it out at the time.
My answer is that people need to get kids outdoors and teach them about the benefits that land provides. It is inarguable that you can’t protect something if you don’t love it and you can’t love it if you don’t know it. It is also true – and quite sad – that today’s youth spend far too little time outdoors. Without time in nature, how will they learn to love the land so that they can protect it? Thankfully, that is a fight we can win.
Dr Richard Louv writes in his book, Last Child in the Woods, that today’s youth suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder”, where a lack of unstructured play in the outdoors is linked to physical, emotional and mental problems like obesity, depression and poor concentration. Kids know a lot about global environmental threats and iconic African wildlife such as hippos, lions and giraffes, but they have little connection to the natural world right outside their doors. Problems and their solutions are conveyed to children as distant and insurmountable, rather than being immediately relevant and achievable.
But, the solution to this particular problem and the greater issues at play here are within our reach. And, by helping kids, we help ourselves – Nature Deficit Disorder doesn’t just impact kids; it impacts us adults too.
Here’s what my wife and I try to do as parents of our two young children: we take advantage of time outdoors as much as possible, even if only for 15 or 30 minutes at a time; we take them to local swimming holes and playgrounds; we spend extended weekends out in the country and give our kids lots of opportunities to throw rocks, splash in the river, chase bugs and wonder at the beauty of singing birds and the setting sun. Just like us, they are calmer and happier when they are outside. Seems like a win-win to me.