Kids and nature deficit disorder

Like many other social groups, young people are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. "2 generations ago, every family had members who liked to hunt or fish. That's rarer nowadays, and it's just one example of how we're becoming removed from nature," points out Benoît Mercille, executive director of Fondation Monique Fitz-Back.

This finding of the 2012 Nature report brought another observation to light: young people are increasingly out of touch with nature, and this deficit can affect their motor, social and psychological development.

"A number of studies around the world have shown that young people who connect less with nature are more likely to drop out of school or experience behavioural problems. Furthermore, who's going to look after our green spaces and natural environments if young people completely lose interest in nature? There's a real concern about the next generation," says Benoît Mercille.

The foundation decided to do its part by developing a series of nature contact and interpretation activities for childcare workers and parents to increase the number of hours that kids spend playing outside or enjoying nature.

"Some parents and childcare workers are very comfortable talking about nature, birds or insects to kids, but a large—and growing—proportion are not. Lack of exposure to nature affects the whole of society, both children and adults alike."

Kids who are aware yet motivated

Nonetheless, kids love nature. Elementary students are tops in all categories when it comes to environmental action. It's not unusual for them to be the ones to initiate changes with regard to recycling and even composting at home. Then, when they hit adolescence, things get complicated. What can you do as a parent?

"Less talk and more action," responds Mr. Mercille. "Parents need to set an example. Teens take more notice than we think of what parents do."

A survey conducted in 2009 on young people's attitudes toward the environment and the future showed that youth raised by parents who care more about the environment are much more aware and more optimistic about their future.

Despite everything, today's teens are more aware than the previous generation: they are knowledgeable, they imitate those around them and they see many good examples in society today.

Teens don't forget their good habits—they're simply in a more difficult stage, where they're learning to become consumers. "Young people work and want to consume. They're under intense pressure from those around them to have the latest electronic gadgets and fashions," explains Mr. Mercille.

Lastly, getting kids to connect with nature very early on is worthwhile for both them and the environment. Playing outside promotes their development and later, they will be more inclined to take care of the natural environment in which they grew up. "It's pretty simple—the environment is where we live. It's up to all of us to make our world a healthy and enjoyable place," concludes Mr. Mercille.

To do with children

Discover our educational activities on the environment and responsible consumption: