Nature Deficit Disorder: How Reduced Outdoor Play Affects Children

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What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

Nature Deficit Disorder is a term that refers to a child being unconnected with nature. Richard Louv described in his book, that a child’s lack of outdoor experiences can lead to physical and mental ailments. While Richard Louv is not the first person to address concern over the minimal amount of time that youths spend outdoors, he is the first person to assign a term that describes the problem.

Average Time Children Spend Outdoors

According to a University of Michigan study, children spend on average two hours less time playing outside than children did twenty years ago. A Kaiser Family Foundation study estimates that children between the ages of eight and eighteen spend an average of 6.5 hours a day playing with electronic devices indoors.

Why Children Spend Less Time Outdoors

Richard Louv attributes parental anxiety over child safety as one of the main reasons that children don’t play outdoors. Parents are afraid of their children being abducted by strangers. The fear of abduction has caused parents to not allow children to play outside unattended. A parent’s busy schedule often does not allow for supervised outdoor play, so outdoor play opportunities are limited as a result.

The electronic age is another big contributing factor to Nature Deficit Disorder. Television, computers and video games are prevalent interests among children. It is not uncommon for a child to prefer playing with electronic devices over playing outdoors.

Lack of outdoor play environments is another obstacle to children playing outdoors. In many cities, there is a lack of natural settings for children to enjoy. Safe parks are often not locally available for children to play in. Even many schools have become little more than concrete jungles, with a lack of natural grass and plant life.

Homework overload can also prevent children from having time to participate in outdoor activities. A University of Michigan study revealed that children spend on average 7.5 hours more a week on homework than children did twenty years ago.

Problems Associated with Nature Deficit Disorder

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that “between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese.” Diet is one cause of childhood obesity and lack of exercise is another. It is reasonable to predict that childhood obesity rates would drop, if children spent more time enjoying outdoor activities.

Richard Louv wrote in his book that children who don’t play outside are more prone to anxiety disorders, attention disorders and depression. And that children who spend more time playing outdoors show more creativity and are happier than children who spend very little time playing outdoors.

Dr Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute, conducted a survey that showed that children care less about environmental welfare than their parents do. This is a cause for concern, since children are the future caretakers of the environment. Perhaps the reduction of outdoor playtime has resulted in children caring less for the environment.


Parents can take their children on outdoor trips to enjoy activities such as the beach, hiking, fishing, camping and etc.

Neighborhoods can build more parks and restore current parks to include natural plant life to stimulate a child’s senses.

Schools can allow for increased playground time and outdoor field trips.

Children can be encouraged to enjoy activities such as camping in the backyard, playing in the backyard and gardening.