Life among the screens: what threatens people from being separated from nature and how are they struggling with it in the USA
My childhood, like many of my peers, was spent in nature. We spent hours playing in the forest, which started right outside the neighboring house and stretched for kilometers, climbed trees, picked flowers, bathed in the river, gathered mushrooms and berries, built huts and applied plantain to the wound. At school, we kept a “Nature Observation Diary”, and in the summer we went to the sea and went to the mountains. But at the same time, they knew little about ecology, and caring for the environment, at best, consisted in collecting waste paper.
Then I did not notice it, but in my youth nature disappeared from my life. Contact with her was limited to rare trips to the dacha or to Bulgaria at sea, as well as to stray dogs in front of the television center building on Kiev Syrtsa.
When I met my future husband in the USA, on one of our first dates he invited me to a so-called “haik”. I didn’t know what to expect, therefore, as a decent Ukrainian woman, I put on a dress and high heel shoes. Hike, as it turned out, is walking on a gravel-covered or asphalt “health path”, where Americans come in sportswear, sometimes with dogs or come to ride bicycles.
Such "hikes" are a very popular holiday among Americans. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of forest trails in the United States, and the most famous of them, the Appalachian Trail, stretches 3488 km across 15 states. Almost all of them are in excellent condition. Anyone can "adopt" the path, that is, regularly transfer funds for its maintenance, for which a nameplate will be installed for the benefactor. Almost all the shops in parks or along the trails are named after those who funded them.
The number of parks in the USA is also impressive - 59 only national ones, occupying an area of tens and hundreds of kilometers, and each town has its own local ones.
After the Americans paid attention to the environment, they did a great job here. When you come from Ukraine, the first thing you pay attention to is clean air and a huge amount of greenery around. It's hard to imagine, but the river that flows along the Ohio University campus where I studied was once so dirty that it ignited spontaneously. In honor of this event, the local beer "Flaming River" is brewed. Now you can fish there.
And all of this makes Americans smarter, calmer and healthier. True, these advances may not be used by the next generation of Americans, as young people lose contact with the environment. In his book "The Last Child in the Forest," researcher Richard Luv, having interviewed three thousand children and parents, came to the conclusion that the current generation does not exist at all in nature. He quotes a boy who confessed that he loves to play at home because there are ... sockets. For many of them, nature is one of the options for a screensaver on a computer.
Sandra Hofferf of the University of Maryland has calculated that from 1997 to 2003 a year, the number of 9-12 children who walk in the woods, fish, play on the beach, or do gardening has halved.
Things are even worse among the little ones. At the University of Scotland, they installed sensors on the wrists of three-year-old children and found that they were physically active for only 20 minutes a day! And this problem is international. Luv quotes from an article in the Addis Ababa newspaper, where the journalist laments that Ethiopian children have completely stopped playing in nature.
Of course, among the obvious reasons in the United States are the fear of letting children out of their homes, as well as the popularity of television and computer games. But there are others.
One of these reasons Luv calls the increasing role of "private government" - condominiums, residents' cooperatives and associations. They set their own rules that can restrict the play of children in residential settlements: don't walk on lawns, don't pick flowers, and you can't climb trees. And even in your own yard it may be forbidden to build huts (not across the country, but where local authorities have introduced such a rule).
One family was outraged that their daughters were forbidden to draw with chalk in the parking lot near the house. Although there, besides drawing on the asphalt, the child does nothing at all. On the one hand, the feelings of the residents are understandable, but on the other, this discourages children from leaving the house. They are not interested in just walking along the paths and looking around, especially if this occupation is compared with computer games.
On the subject: Five essential skills that American education provides
Similar rules are established by local authorities in parks to protect the environment. For example, in the city of San Diego, a special permit is required to disrupt the plant, and it is also forbidden to “injure” trees. If a child climbs a tree and breaks a branch, then there’s an article.
Although many Americans have their own homes, their courtyards are often miniature, and in townhouses they are even the size of a grave. There are practically no joint yards here. As a rule, they walk with children in playgrounds, which is good to do with babies, but already a seven-year-old child, from his own experience, with his mother on a swing may not want to go.
And the loss of the connection of children with nature, as well as adults, leads to mental and physiological disorders. This generation of children, according to American media, may be the first in US history with a life expectancy shorter than that of their parents.
Based on the research, Leuve in his book calls such consequences. First, the use of feelings is reduced and, as a result, their development is inhibited. Chewing popcorn in front of the TV, children use sight, hearing and taste, but we have five, not three, feelings.
Secondly, it is, of course, obesity. Organized sports - 3 hours or even less per week, which not all children do, will not help. We went in for sports and ran for hours in the yard and in the forest. There is a direct documented relationship between how much time children spend in nature and their physical fitness.
Thirdly, these are psychological disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and childhood depression. Some studies indicate that time spent in nature helps children better concentrate and resist stress, and also improves their cognitive abilities. Children, and adults, calm down and get smarter in the forest. He suspects that they are silent about this because of the machinations of psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies. Try to compete with the next grove!
And in order to get the positive effect of contact with nature, it is not at all necessary to move to the Amazon jungle. Even a potted ficus is already some kind of contribution to improving family health.
Studies in Norway and Sweden have shown that preschoolers who play on a playground with natural cover, bushes and grass, are ahead in the physical development of their peers playing on a playground with artificial turf.
English and Swedish studies indicate that running in a park or in a forest is much healthier than running on a treadmill in a gym.
And although modern children spend less time in nature than their parents, the need to protect the environment is being taught to them quite actively. Even from kindergarten, my son brought stickers explaining the need to sort garbage at a level accessible to preschoolers. However, without personal experience and knowledge of local flora and fauna, the protection of nature turns into a pure abstraction - like the struggle for world peace - and the pace of caring for it in the United States, Luve worries, will subsequently slow down.
Original column published on the website Voices of America.
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