Generation 'In' gets a new nudge: Go out and play
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These trends prompted academics and officials – including US Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne – to gather last month in West Virginia for a first-of-its-kind conference entitled "Children and Nature." Offering some hard data were the authors of a study that found a high correlation between the drop in national park visits and the increased time spent with TV, home movies, video games, and the Internet. While oil price rises also correlated to a lesser degree, the study found, many other factors did not, including vacation time and federal funding.Skip to next paragraph
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"We may be seeing evidence of a fundamental shift away from people's appreciation of nature ... to 'videophilia,' which we here define as 'the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media,' " reads the study, funded by the Nature Conservancy and published earlier this year in the Journal of Environmental Management.
Patricia Zaradic, one of the study's authors, has discarded her TV and urges other parents to go outdoors with their children. "The kids are going to do what you do," she says. "If you are spending the majority of your time glued to some sort of boob tube, how can you tell them to go outside and play?"
Too often, argues Louv, children who don't have such experiences assume there isn't anything to do outside.
"Environmentalists also have a role to play in this because there has been this look-but-don't-touch ethic that has sometimes been appropriate, but sometimes not," he says.
The hunting community may offer lessons about engaging children outdoors, says Kyle Scanlon, editor of the fish and game magazine Outdoors. His home state of Vermont, like others, offers mentoring programs to teach kids gun safety and sets aside youth-only weekends during hunting season.
The proliferation of outdoor chic – from high-end REI or EMS camping gear to glossy magazines like Outside – suggests an ongoing connection with the outdoors.
"There are still plenty of people interested in outdoor activity, but there aren't as many people interested in extended trips," says Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. "They are more inclined to do day trips and be back somewhere comfortable for the night. And the gear sales reflect that as well." Day packs are in, overnight packs are out.
Ms. Verdone's efforts to reconnect her family with nature – including bike rides and hikes around southern New England – seem to be paying off.
On this day's walk with her parents, Deanna says she discovered "stuff you don't see every day." With wavy hand motions, she describes a tree she found with rippled bark: "It was really weird." She also saw a tree charred by lightning, as well as playful wildlife. "There was a squirrel jumping tree to tree and chucking stuff at us," she says.
As for other ways to get the next generation into the woods, her mother has a novel idea: "You know what they should do is tell guys [that hiking] is a cheap date. And the girls will think it's romantic."