James Murray

James Murray

Great Outdoors: Video games contribute to ‘nature deficit disorder’

Columnist James Murray

School is out for summer (a simple fact, not a reference to the Alice Cooper song) and a lot of kids are happy to be free. I know when I was a kid I was just about the happiest person on the planet come the end of June. Those now long ago summer days of my youth were mostly spent goofing off, fishing and enjoying being outside – in the great outdoors.

Back then there were no such things as virtual reality video fishing games, just warm lazy summer afternoons spent dangling a worm in front of a rainbow trout hiding in the shadows along the banks of Chase Creek. I was truly in my glory sitting there on a rock fishing for little 10 and 12-inch trout. I was also in my glory wandering around in the woods observing what to me were the wonders of nature. Woodpeckers in the tall pines and strangely coloured fungi growing on rotted logs, a tiny fir tree growing out of a rock and the whisper of the wind as it danced across the tree tops.

I can still remember the feel of the sun as it penetrated the canopy of tree branches above me and wrapped itself around me like a warm sweater. I loved going fishing. The trip there and back was an adventure unto itself.

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I remember one summer afternoon. I was maybe nine or 10 and happened to come across a bull snake (also called gopher snake) sunning itself on the trail leading down to the lake not far from my grandmother’s house. I sat down on a rock about 10 feet away and just watched that snake for the longest time. It was little more than two feet long, but quite thick for its length. Its skin looked similar to that of a rattler, at least back then – and even now when I try to see it in my mind’s eye. I can still see it’s tongue flicking back and forth, sensing something nearby, ‘tasting’ my smell. After a moment or so it slithered away into the bushes.

The memory of that brief encounter has stayed with me for a long, long time. It was that encounter with a harmless little bull snake that awakened in me a fascination with nature and created a connection with the outdoors that continues even today. I am as curious about nature now as I was when I was a kid.

The thing is, I don’t think that a lot of kids nowadays really have much of an connection with nature.

I’m reminded of something I read in a book by Richard Louv, entitled Last Child in the Woods. The premise of the book is that today’s children are so plugged into electronic diversions that they have lost any meaningful connection to the natural world around them. In his book, Louv links the lack of connection with nature in children’s lives leads to such things as obesity, attention disorders and depression.

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Louv, in his book, draws a comparison to the modern term “attention-deficit disorder” when he says that, “many members of my generation grew into adulthood taking nature’s gifts for granted; we assumed that generations to come would also receive these gifts. But something has changed. Now we see the emergence of what I have come to call nature-deficit disorder.”

He does point out that, “while this term is by no means a medical diagnosis, it does offer a way to think about the problem.”

I read Louv’s book with a certain amount of hesitation, if not sadness. It bothers me that so many kids no longer relate to nature and spend so little time in the great outdoors. They are missing out on so much. Louv was right in saying that things like electronic games have replaced actual participation in outdoor activities. It is sad to think of kids who would rather sit cooped up in their bedroom playing a video game rather than sitting in a boat out on a lake observing all the wonders of nature around them.

My father taught me that catching fish is but a small part of what fishing is all about. It is more about all the sights and sounds that surround you when you are out there actually experiencing nature.

My advice to young people nowadays, would be to go outside for a walk, find a rock or log somewhere beside a stream, sit down, lean back, feel the warmth of the sun on your face, breath in the fresh air and connect with the great outdoors.


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