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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.


I'm so glad this topic has finally came up. For years I've noticed children no longer playing out in their neighborhoods during the summer. I have said that it almost looks like an atomic bomb went off...where is everyone?? I'm talking suburbs, country & inner cities (not as bad). I laugh the way people cry the blues when winter never seems to end here in northern Ohio........but when it gets here, where is everyone? Even the summer holidays, where are all the cook-outs? Memorial Day I drove around & did not see one family outside having a cook-out. We have a wonderful park system here in Cleveland & the place used to be loaded with picknickers. I rarely see them anymore. When I was young, we went picknicking every weekend.....& didn't mind driving 40 miles to get there! Kids need to get outside & watch the ants (a favorite childhood thing I did..LOL), maybe get a bird feeder & watch the birds & see which ones will visit, maybe help mom in the garden....the list goes on. As u can tell, I was raised outdoors; drove from Ohio to Grand Tetons, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Colorado, with a tent on top of our car (in the 60's). And there were no showers at the camp sites in those days. I once read that one of the best cures for depression is to get in touch with nature!

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

Should could serve to lessen the blow, or it could give you the urge to toss your cookies, but this "out of the outdoors" mindset shouldn't be taken as unique to wilderness adventures. I get a 14 week case of acid reflux and high blood pressure every spring managing Little League and Pony League baseball. Trying to teach kids how to play a game on grass, not on TV, that they never practice during the off-season is the height of frustration for someone who lived and died with sports through and slightly beyond college. The quality of play is beyond poor, and there is absolutely NO concept of baseball acumen (e.g., proper positioning to field a ball, what base to throw to, or for that matter how to throw period, base running skills, situational hitting, etc.) or acumen for most any sport. It is my firm belief that the parents sign the kid up to get him out of the house and away from the video garbage for a few hours a week, and when he gets hurt misplaying a ball in the field, it's MY fault! When he gets hit by a pitch that he could easily have avoided by moving his feet, there's parental bloodlust for the pitcher! And God forbid their precious little one doesn't merit All-Star selection. The above scenario applies to approximately 10/12 kids I coach every year. That's right at 83-84%. Which just so happens to coincide with the 17% of kids who hit the trails a mere uno times a year.

But don't place all the blame on the doorstep of the kid. The parents, yes the "us" generation, have to facilitate the kids access to the Gameboy, X-Box, Playstation, i-Pod, PDA's and the like, as I've yet to hear of a child being born, checkbook in hand. And why do we do it? Simple question, complex answer. Books can be written on this topic. Some of it has to do with keeping the kids quiet and out of the way while we work at home, play on OUR computers, or engage in the ever-popular R&R. Sedentary lifestyles in children are ever so closely related to behavioral traits observed in their parents. And how many kids, left to their own devices, are going to choose the hard way to engage an activity versus the easy way? The brutal truth is it's way easier to get a group of kids together to play online, or 4 controllers in a game system than it is to get those little buggers to break a sweat throwing or chasing a ball. You wouldn't believe how many times I've heard, "it's too hot to play outside", when temperatures are in the 80's. What wimpy attitudes we've created!
As I stated in another post on a different issue, if you want to increase park attendance within the younger generation, target the parents. If you can get the lazy, overweight, out of shape parental units involved, well, let's face it, once you throw the kids in the car, they don't have much choice about the destination, do they?

Bart you couldn't be more right. I remember a newbie that I was training to become a backcountry ranger (I later learned that she thought it would be a quick path to a law enforcement career) and she insisted that I always walk in the lead because she was terrified of spider webs and snakes. It was a shocking event in my park at the time when I later fired her. The proposed sex discrimination lawsuit died in its tracks when it was learned by her counsel that I had replaced her with another female who didn't mind hiking near spiders and actually liked the scenery in the backcountry. The time I was required to spend documenting her obvious incompetence could've been used to train five other employees.

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.

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!

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.

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!


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.

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