I read an article several weeks ago about a disorder called “creation deficit disorder” also known as “nature deficit disorder”. Even though this disorder is not recognized medically, it’s likely to become medically recognized as it continues to climb in epidemic proportions among the younger generation who are growing up on smart phones, iPads, computer screens and are captured by hours upon hours of video games, TV, movies, etc. It can affect adults, as well. Basically, creation deficit disorder amounts to a disconnection from God’s creation (nature) and in-depth family-community relationships. Unfortunately, it is crippling future generations, worldwide — and I believe it to be serious enough to talk about.
“Nature-deficit disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but a useful term—a metaphor—to describe what many of us believe are the human costs of alienation from nature: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and other maladies.”
Richard Louv – co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of Last Child in the Woods, The Nature Principle, and, most recently, Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community
Why Being in Creation is Important for Kids
First, let me give some personal background.
My husband served as a part-time youth director in our church for several years. Two times every year (summer and winter) we took our youth group to the HEB Foundation Camp in Leaky TX for a “youth retreat”. The location is in what we call the Texas hill country forming the southeast part of the Edwards Plateau. It’s a very beautiful and popular vacation area with gorgeous scenery and pristine water. We usually took between 50-100 kids on each retreat. Some of the ladies and men from our church went along as sponsors and to cook meals. All the food was homemade and delicious. We slept in log cabins which contained bunk beds for about 20 kids in each cabin with one bathroom (3 stalls and two showers) and — no air-conditioning — that’s a big deal when you live in high-heat and high-humidity Texas. The cabins were equipped with heat in the winter. No electronics of any kind were allowed.
My husband and I went on many of these youth retreats when we were teens. It was awesome to be constantly surrounded by nature, go on hikes, play baseball and volleyball, and swim in the beautiful and pristine water. Time to be alone to read, pray and meditate was always part of the daily schedule. I remember how wonderful I slept at night – open windows and fresh air. We always left feeling much better, lighter, happier and energized — mind, body, and spirit — than when we arrived.
So what’s the point of my story? The importance of taking time to put down digital devices and relax and refresh in nature — everyday. Outside time gives kids a way to run-off stress and stored-up energy, to connect with a world outside the walls of school and home, to further their imaginations, to learn about the plants, animals, and insects that inhabit our beautiful worlds, and to take advantage of the healing benefits of sunshine. Relaxation and refreshment – mind, body, and spirit – is also important for good health. And it’s no wonder that health concerns begin to emerge when kids are not given the time to connect with nature.
My experiences at youth camp happened many years ago when times were much simpler and safer. But because we have neglected the importance of being in nature, we now we have a disorder that is a threat to our health and well-being. Even though we live in a nation of abundance, we are missing the very thing that feeds our bodies and souls as nothing else can. That thing is nature. Who would have ever thought that we would be dealing with such a thing as creation deficit disorder? Let’s begin by talking about some of the signs of creation deficit disorder.
Signs of Creation Deficit Disorder
- Attention Fatigue – Sitting and focusing on one thing for long periods of time. Research indicates that directed attention fatigue lowers our self-regulation and makes us more aggressive, less tolerant, and less sensitive to social cues.
- Taking offense too much.
- Less likely to be considerate.
- Spending very little time in unsupervised outdoor play. The Nature of Americans National Report, suggests that children 8 to 12 years old spend three times as many hours with computers and televisions each week as they do playing outside in nature.
- Sensory Anesthesia – Becoming disconnected from the feedback we receive from nature through our five senses.
- Loneliness – Many kids and adults have no idea what it’s like to have a pet friend and many would rather be alone with their digital devices rather than cultivate real-life friendships.
- Loss of interest in things and activities outside of electronics.
- Vitamin D Deficiency – Vitamin Deficiency is usually caused by a lack of sufficient sunlight. Children and adults who spend most of their time indoors are vulnerable to having a Vitamin D deficiency and should have yearly lab work performed.
- Higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.
- A rising rate of myopia.
- Child and adult obesity.
Richard Louv states, “Because researchers have turned to this topic relatively recently, most of the evidence is correlative, not causal. But it tends to point in one direction: Experiences in the natural world appear to offer great benefits to psychological and physical health and the ability to learn, for children and adults. The research strongly suggests that time in nature can help many children learn to build confidence in themselves, calm themselves, and focus.”
Approximately 16% of U.S. children aged 6-19 are overweight or obese. The volume of chronic conditions like asthma, attention-deficit disorder, and obesity affecting children has grown dramatically and often lead to poor health in adulthood. Along with less than ideal health, a lack of routine contact with nature may result in stunted academic and even developmental growth.
Natural Remedies for Creation Deficit Disorder
- Reduce external distractions. Noise, danger, time pressure, interruptions can all be distractions.
- Work on resolving internal distractions as much as possible. Unfinished business, worry, anger are some internal distractions.
- Learn how long you can go without a break. And learn to recognize when you are starting to lose concentration. Then actually take a break, or do something else that requires less focus for a while. This is very important for both adults and kids.
- Get enough restful sleep. All kids should have a bed time that is enforced.
- Decrease your children’s screen time.
- Observe nature. Whether you live in an urban, suburban, or rural environment, teach your children to watch birds and squirrels, frogs and lizards. Listen for birdsong early in the morning and at dusk. Keep your eyes open for the tracks of animal friends in the snow or mud, observing the stories they leave for us on the ground as they pass.
- We often speak of nature in terms of what it gives us—health benefits, recreation, fuel for our fires or vegetables for our meals and there is nothing wrong about that. However we should also be mindful to teach our children how to take care of God’s creation.
- Vitamin D3. If testing indicates low Vitamin D3 levels, spending more time outdoors can definitely help. When this is not possible, take a high quality, vegetarian Vitamin D3 supplement. I highly recommend Suntrex D3.
- Encourage active free-play outside with your children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming (television, video games) per day. Replace the time that would have been spent in front of a computer screen or television with an outdoor activity.
- Review your child’s schedule. Many kids are booked solid with too many structured activities, leaving no time to play outdoors. If you must schedule outdoor time on the family calendar, then your children may be too busy.
- Be an example to your children by spending time outside in your garden, eating dinner on your patio or deck, going on hikes, sitting outside in the evening and counting the stars (purchase a telescope), etc. During the summer help your children make nature notebooks that include drawings and pictures (get your child a camera) of plants, insects, and animals they see outside.
- Go on a color-hunt. Get some paint chips from your local hardware store. On your next walk have your children try to match colors in nature to the paint chips.
- Collect leaves in Autumn.
- Visit a Botanical garden.
- Grow a garden. This is my personal favorite. If you don’t have space, a small garden can be grown in pots on a balcony. Most children love to watch the seeds they planted begin to grow and then put on fruit. Not only does this teach them about nature, it also teaches them how to grow their own food which is very important to know in the world in which we live.
- Buy or borrow several magnifying glasses and visit a pond. L During
- Observe and take pictures of birds. Put out some bird feeders, bird houses, and a small water fountain. Encourage children to get up early to take pictures and watch the birds eat and drink.
There are many more ideas that we can implement to encourage our kids to love the outdoors and to love the beauty of nature. After a while you will most likely find that your children will ask to go outside to play and to explore — when that happens, you will know your ideas and time is successful!
While I’m not necessarily over-joyed with another issue being called a disorder, I do believe this one has merit. I’ve seen how it works and some of the health concerns that can develop. As we know, the amazing creation that God has given to us provides us with life and healing – plants, herbs, water, sunshine, moon, rivers, oceans, stars, etc. I find it absolutely amazing that we are at a time when families must purposely schedule times for their kids to play outside. When I was growing up, kids basically lived outside, especially in the summer. Unfortunately, times are much different especially with rampant “busyness” and the justified safety concern about children playing outside by themselves. Outside play is becoming more and more foreign to many children. We seriously need to get back to providing our children the chance to have daily leisure time in nature – it’s an easy and inexpensive cure for creation deficit disorder. In fact, Louv points out that outside play is “Nature’s Ritalin — having a restorative effect on children’s minds and bodies — without the drugs. I agree.
You can create more time to spend in nature by employing just a few easy lifestyle modifications. And once you do, you and your kids will begin to feel its positive effects immediately. In his book, “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age,” Louv asked perhaps one of the most important questions of our time, “What could our lives and our children’s lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?”