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Fear the outdoors

August 29, 2006|by KYLE LEFLER

We've all seen it on television reruns, the picture-perfect mid-20th century family, "The Brady Bunch" and "Leave it to Beaver." The kids go to school all day, then come home and play outside in the yard until dinner. They troop in to clean up, covered in dirt and grass stains and smiling contentedly.

Think about it: When was the last time you or your siblings did that?

A recent article by Rachel Anderson, in Utne magazine, claims that our generation is taught to fear the outdoors.

Richard Louv wrote an article for Sierra Magazine entitled "Leave No Child Inside." He said that the main reasons youths resist going outside are:

· The availability of electronic equipment

· Longer school hours

· Increased homework

· Fear of strangers

More tech toys



As we live in the technological age, our knowledge of all things electronic broadens daily. According to a recent Nielson/NetRatings survey, nearly 75 percent of U.S. households have access to the Internet. Kids can surf the Web for hours, play games and listen to music.

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Our society is also infiltrated with electronic games. These games were created as entertainment, but have become a bit of a cultural obsession.

Technological advancements are not necessarily a bad thing, if used in moderation, but it seems American youth are over-indulging, with bad results.

For instance, Americans are becoming more prone to repetitive stress injuries, according to researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentristry of New Jersey. Repetitive stress injuries are caused by a motion that is repeated often, such as pushing buttons on a video game controller or clicking a button on a computer mouse.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 1/3 of U.S. children - about 25 million kids - are overweight or obese. New technology has quite an effect on this epidemic. Researchers at the University of Michigan Health Center say that the average child spends 20 hours a week or more watching television. This idle activity coupled with bad eating habits can lead to obesity.

The CDC encourages physical activity, such as playing outside, because it is beneficial to our health. CDC researchers say that physical activity helps maintain a healthy body weight, reduces feeling of anxiety and depression and reduces feeling of stress.

Activity early in life can also help prevent serious health problems down the road.

More schoolwork



Longer school hours and increased homework also account for children's lack of activity outdoors. A U.S. Department of Education survey concluded that the average length of a school day is 6.7 hours, a little more than 40 percent of a teenager's day (after subtracting eight hours of sleep).

Then, when kids arrive home from school, they are swamped with homework. After that is completed and dinner eaten, there is little daylight left in which to play outside.

More fear, less fun



The final ingredient in the recipe for fear of the outdoors is the fear of strangers. In his Sierra Magazine article, Louv says that the media emphasizes abductions and murders so much that parents are afraid to leave their kids alone. In her Utne magazine article, Anderson agrees.

"Even though abduction rates are falling, many parents are convinced that their children are in danger of being kidnapped," she writes.

Wild animals represent yet another so-called "threat" of nature. Dave Anderson, of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, suggests that "... the media sensationalizes wild animal attacks to the point that these rare occurrences seem like everyday hazards."

Louv, who also wrote "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder," says playing outdoors stimulates children's minds, induces creativity and leads to fewer symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. ADD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are being diagnosed in higher and higher numbers. Rachel Anderson writes that playing outdoors reduces the likelihood of symptoms. An article in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine cites the outdoors' unstructured environment as a teaching tool, teaching kids to pay attention, make decisions and solve problems.

Although they might get scratched along the way, they are learning valuable cooperation skills, not always learned in an indoor setting.

In our modern world, which changes everyday, nature is one constant. The harsh reality is that if we are taught to fear nature and live indoors, how will nature ever survive? We need to get out there and experience it or it may disappear.

It does not matter if you live in the city or in the heart of the mountains. Take a walk, climb a tree, play basketball at the park. However you do it, don't fear nature - enjoy it.

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