Life among the screens: what threatens people from being separated from nature and how they are struggling with it in the USA - ForumDaily
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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.

Фото: Depositphotos

I didn’t notice it then, but in my youth nature disappeared from my life. Contact with her was limited to rare trips to the dacha or to Bulgaria by the sea, as well as stray dogs in front of the television center building in Syrts in Kiev.

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 forested trails in the United States, and the most famous of them, the Appalachian Trail, stretches 3488 km through 15 states. Almost all of them are in excellent condition. Anyone can “adopt” the trail, that is, regularly transfer funds for its maintenance, for which the benefactor will be given a nameplate. Almost all the shops in the parks or along the trails have the names of those who financed them.

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The number of parks in the USA is also impressive - 59 national parks alone, covering an area of ​​tens and hundreds of kilometers, and each town has its own local ones.

After the Americans paid attention to the environment, a lot of work was done here. When you come from Ukraine, the first thing you notice is the clean air and a huge amount of greenery around. It's hard to imagine, but the river that runs along the campus of Ohio University, where I studied, was once so dirty that it spontaneously combusted. In honor of this event, they brew a local beer called “Burning River”. Now you can fish there.

And all this makes Americans smarter, calmer and healthier. True, the next generation of Americans may not benefit from these achievements, since young people are losing contact with the environment. In his book “The Last Child in the Woods,” researcher Richard Luw, after interviewing three thousand children and parents, came to the conclusion that the current generation does not spend time in nature at all. He quotes a boy who admitted that he loves to play at home because there are... sockets. For many of them, nature is one of the options for a computer screensaver.

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.

Фото: Depositphotos

Things are even worse among kids. A Scottish university placed sensors on the wrists of three-year-old children and found that they were only physically active for 20 minutes a day! And this problem is international. Luw cites excerpts from an article in an Addis Ababa newspaper, where the journalist laments that Ethiopian children have completely stopped playing in nature.

Of course, obvious reasons in the United States include the fear of letting children leave the house alone, as well as the popularity of television and computer games. But there are others.

One of these reasons is cited by Luw as the increasing role of “private government”—condominiums, resident cooperatives, and associations. They set their own rules that may limit children’s play in residential communities: don’t walk on lawns, don’t pick flowers, and don’t climb trees. And even in your own yard it may be prohibited to build huts (not throughout the country, but where local authorities have introduced such a rule).

One family was outraged that their daughter was not allowed to draw with chalk in the parking lot near their house. Although there, besides drawing on the asphalt, there is nothing for the child to do at all. On the one hand, the residents’ feelings are understandable, but on the other hand, this discourages children from leaving the house. They are not interested in just walking along the paths and looking around, especially if this activity is compared with computer games.

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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 own their own homes, the courtyards in them are often miniature, and in townhouses they are even the size of a grave. There are practically no common yards here. As a rule, they go for walks with children on playgrounds, which is good to do with little ones, but from my own experience, a seven-year-old child may not want to go on the swing with his mother.

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.

Фото: Depositphotos

Secondly, this is, of course, obesity. Organized sports - 3 hours or even less per week, which not all children do - will not save you. We played 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 a positive effect from contact with nature, it is not at all necessary to move to the Amazon jungle. Even a ficus in a pot is already some contribution to improving the health of the family.

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 instilled in them quite actively. My son has been bringing stickers since kindergarten, explaining at a level accessible to preschoolers the need to sort garbage. But without personal experience and knowledge of local flora and fauna, protecting nature turns into a pure abstraction - like the fight for world peace - and the momentum of conservation in the United States, Luv worries, will subsequently slow down.

Original column published Voices of America.

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