UK study says most children have never seen countryside
Psychologists call them “concrete children” – young people who have rarely, if ever, seen anything of the natural world outside of their built-up neighborhood.
A new study in the U.K. shows that one child in five (1.1 million young people aged 8 to 13) has never set foot in the countryside, and a third of all children overall have either had no contact or just the slightest contact with the world of nature.
The study was led by psychologist Dr. Arik Sigman, author of The Spoiled Generation and Remotely Controlled.
“In the early years of the 21st century,” he told the London Daily Mail, “we have witnessed the rise of the ‘concrete child’, who sees life through a TV or a computer screen, rather than by simply being in the great outdoors.”
A third of the 1,000 children who were polled said they believed white bread is made of milk. The study reports that many children believe their vegetables are made at supermarkets.
Dr. Sigman says that contact with the natural world helps children make better food choices, especially if they’ve had hands-on experience with food that’s growing in a garden, on a farm, or wild in the woods.
While going out to the countryside is certainly better than not going, Dr. Sigman adds that more is needed if young people’s attitudes are really going to be affected. He proposes growing vegetables in gardens or even plant pots in apartments.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and co-founder of the Children and Nature Network, has coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder to explain what’s happening to young people in cities all over the world.
“Today, kids can tell you just about everything about the Amazon rain forests,” he said. “But they can’t tell you about the last time they went out in the woods and watched the leaves move.”
Louv notes that even the slightest exposure to the world of nature can make a difference to young people.
“At the University of Illinois, studies have shown that when children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are exposed to nature, they improve dramatically – even children as young as 5 years old.”
Louv also cites a study at the University of Washington that recommends adding nature therapy to the traditional therapies for A.D.D. which are behavior modification and Ritalin and other stimulants.
“I agree with them,” he said. “But I turn that around and say, couldn’t part of this huge increase in the number of kids who are placed on Ritalin have something to do with the fact we took nature away from them in the first place?”