The Nature Gap
Don’t make it any wider this Christmas. Give children toys, not devices–things that encourage engagement with other children, their muscles, and nature. Is there a problem?
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. Children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6 1/2 hours a day with electronic media, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Kids are still curious by nature. But it is no longer nature that draws their curiosity. They learn about their place in the world beyond the screen of their monitor, not beyond the door to the world they will inherit. This even applies to kids in California and Colorado where there are more plenty of natural areas for children to visit and explore:
Yosemite may be nice and all, but Tommy Nguyen of San Francisco would much prefer spending his day in front of a new video game or strolling around the mall with his buddies.
What, after all, is a 15-year-old supposed to do in what John Muir called “the grandest of all special temples of nature” without cell phone service?
“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.”
Kids don’t think of it as a park. They just think of it as a big open space where there is nothing to do.” …The notion of going on a hike, camping, fishing or backpacking is foreign to a growing number of young people in cities and suburbs around the nation, according to several polls and studies.”