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Kids Detached From Nature? Here's One Example

The Boring Woods of Sequoia Kings

Trees like 'General Sherman' in Sequoia/Kings are boring, so say the tween mall rats in California.

Think electronics aren't getting in the way of kids and nature? While it might not be true in every nook and cranny of the country, it is happening in some areas. Take California, for instance. Tommy Nguyen told the San Francisco Chronicle trees are pretty boring.

"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."

This was the hook Chronicle staff writer Peter Fimrite used to get into Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods.

OK, we've all heard plenty about Mr. Louv's book the past two years; he's made a cottage industry out of it. So let's move on to some recent hard data. Again, here's a snippet from the Chronicle:

The nature gap is just as big a problem in California, where there are more state and national parks than anywhere else in the country. A recent poll of 333 parents by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 30 percent of teenagers did not participate in any outdoor nature activity at all this past summer. Another 17 percent engaged only once in an outdoor activity like camping, hiking or backpacking.

The numbers coincide with national polls indicating that children and teenagers play outdoors less than young people did in the past. 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.

The story goes on to blame urbanization, video games, fear of nature, even higher park entrance fees for the trend.

Fortunately, folks are trying to reverse this trend. Groups such as the National Park Service, which is working with others on outreach, the Outdoor Industry Association, and other conservation groups.

For more information on what's being done and what can be done, check out the Children and Nature Network.


Kurt, I saw this news article in the San Francisco Chronicle (10/22/07) and I thought of sending it you. But, I figured you probably had the article on your front desk before the day would be over. I guess I was right, there's nothing more distressing then seeing are young children more detached and oblivious to nature every day. I see the kids in my very neighbor that have that blankty-blank look of what's nature and so what, or show me the nearest mall and I'm one happy camper. Geez, all I can say, we have a long, long ways to go with these kids. Iv'e seen what nature can really do to heal these children from that numb spaced out look. I give you much credit Kurt for bringing this issue to the public light. When we are wasting billions of dollars on a sicking war that should of never happened, we are in the mean time wasting children away from a lack of good quality health and dental care, decent housing, clean air, and child name it! The bottomless war chest (for Bushs corporate buddies) goes un-checked while are kids are starving for holistic conscientious care and simple basic needs. Who do we blame?

Who to blame? Their parents, of course. Children who are introduced to the wonders of nature at an early age like going to National Parks. Children who are plunked down in front of a video game grow up liking video games.
The other contenders aren't factors. Fear of nature? Only kids who've never been out in nature, fear nature. That's not a reason but an outcome. Urbanization has been going on for decades. Higher park entrance fees? For kids who have $300 video games? No.

Sending your kids out into nature requires more parenting than just setting them in front of the TV. You have to go with them and get exercise yourself. Kids age 9-12 can't just be sent outside to play anymore (except in the backyard) by themselves. We've cranked up the fear level so high over pedophiles, kidnappers, and missing children that any parent who did that would be viewed as negligent. Then parents have to make sure their kids are sunscreened every few hours. You can't just send the kid outside to get burned and risk skin cancers as they grow up. They have to be in cell phone contact with the parents if they're out by themselves or again, you'd be looked at as a bad parent.

To be a good parent today requires that you be more protective of your kid. In the 'olden day's good parents sent their kids outside to play all day, no phone, no sunscreen, nothing and didn't worry so long as they came back by dark. Not today.

I was in a national park in Europe this past weekend. And only 15 miles from a major city with a million residents I was able to experience total silence, save the occasional warbling warbler or pecking woodpecker, or my own footsteps. As the day warmed up, families started appearing here and there on the trails and not a single one of them annoyed me in that special way only ugly Americans can seem to annoy. No screaming at the top of their lungs, no throwing rocks at the wildlife, no swinging from the tree branches -- just a bunch of families out enjoying the outdoors together, singing songs, roasting things over the fire, poking sticks in the mud, tossing pebbles in the lake. What's happened to us?


Where were you?

I worked at a national park in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer and experienced the same situation as you. None of the Bulgarian national parks had paved roads; they built visitor centers OUTSIDE the park. That's not to say that the parks there didn't have problems or issues, just that they were generally more peaceful and natural.

Welcome back Merryland to the real world of a hyper-ventilating society with tantrums to throw in with the spoil kids. It seems the general poplace in Europe do a much better job in educating there children to "tread softly and leave no rock unturned" than we do...I wonder why! I know that European outdoor flavor very well. Welcome back and skoal!

Yes, visitor center -- OUTSIDE the park. Parking lot -- outside the park, and you walked INTO the park from there. Wow, what a concept! And no car required all day long. I took the train, then the bus, and it drops you off right there at the entrance.

It was Tyresta Nationalpark, south of Stockholm.

The Park Service's latest crisis is lack of interest in nature--and therefore, national parks--among America's youth. It seems juveniles are too enamored with computers, cell phones, and ipods to care about national parks. Could it be that the Jetsons have finally usurped the Flinstones in popularity?

While it saddens me that proportionately fewer and fewer kids seem interested in national parks, I'm not altogether convinced that NPS strategies to reach them will be very effective.

And what are those strategies? To break kids away from their computers, cell phones and ipods, the NPS is now spending bucket loads of tax dollars on....drum roll, field trips, cell phone tours, and podcasts!

But wait, there's more...

...painfully more. Part of the problem may be because significant numbers of NPS employees themselves are no different from the kids they're trying to reach. Non-NPS readers may be shocked to learn that many, many park rangers are more content to gawk at their computers, blab on their cell phones, or diddle with their ipods than to directly connect with nature. Many NPS rangers I've known seem disinclined to look at a bird, marvel at a rock formation, or explore an old fort. In fact, I've personally witnessed NPS rangers who are uncomfortable (even afraid) when exposed to nature!

In Simple Proposal #2 I discussed the lack of knowledge and enthusiasm many NPS employees have for their places (while I made sure to acknowledge the notable exceptions). I proposed that NPS staff be REQUIRED to learn about and directly connect with their sites.

Simple Proposal #9: Before connecting others to national parks, try connecting yourself first!

Given the distance that most NPS units are from major population centers (most) again, I don't feel this is NPS' problem. It is a larger problem altogether.

I live in an area with much public lands surrounding an urban area and the percentage of people who DON'T use it versus those who do it quite stunning.

One quick comment, though, about the article. I lead tons of children on outings and once they get away from the parking lot, there is a quick and distinct change... quoting a kid from a mall talking about nature (that is, if i read the article right) is just a kitschy way to put a hook into a story. Give the kids a few minutes and their brains shift, the questions begin and they would never say that again. You just need a good guide/leader/interpreter or whatever to make them comfortable, set the context (they often have zero context coming from the city) and tie it back to stuff they are learning in the classroom.

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