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 this, but in my youth nature disappeared from my life. Contact with her was limited to rare trips to the country or to Bulgaria at sea, as well as stray dogs in front of the television center on Syrtse Kyiv.
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 "hayki" - a very popular holiday with the Americans. In the US, hundreds, if not thousands of trails for walking in the woods, and the most famous of them - the Appalachian Trail - stretches for 3488 km across 15 states. Almost all of them are in excellent condition. Everyone can “adopt” the path, that is, regularly transfer funds for its maintenance, for which the benefactor will be given a name tag. Almost all the shops in the parks or along the paths - with the names of those who financed them.
The number of parks is impressive in the USA - only national, 59, occupying a territory of tens and hundreds of kilometers, and in each town there are local ones.
After the Americans paid attention to the ecology, they did a great job here. When you come from Ukraine, the first thing you notice is 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 ignited itself. In honor of this event brewed local beer "Burning River". Now you can fish there.
And all this makes Americans smarter, calmer and healthier. True, these achievements may not take advantage of the next generation of Americans, since young people lose contact with the environment. In his book “The Last Child in the Forest”, researcher Richard Leuve, interviewing three thousand children and parents, came to the conclusion that the current generation does not happen at all in nature. He quotes a boy who has admitted that he loves to play at home because there are ... sockets. For many of them, nature is one of the screen saver options on the 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 worse among kids. At the University of Scotland, installing sensors on the wrist of three-year-old children, they found that they are only 20 minutes a day physically active! And this problem is international. Leuve 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 USA is the fear of letting children out of their homes alone, as well as the popularity of TV and computer games. But there are others.
One of these reasons, Luve calls the increase in the role of "private government" - condominiums, residents' cooperatives and associations. They set their own rules that can limit the children's games in residential communities: do not walk on lawns, and do not tear flowers, and you cannot climb trees. And even in your own yard it can be forbidden to build huts (not all over the country, but where the local authorities introduced such a rule).
One family was outraged that their daughters forbid chalk to draw in the parking lot near the house. Although there, except for drawing on asphalt, the child does nothing at all. On the one hand, the feelings of the inhabitants are clear, but on the other, it discourages children from leaving the house. They are not interested in just walking along the paths and looking around, especially if this exercise 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 houses, the courtyards in them are often miniature, and in townhouses - so much the size of a grave. There are practically no joint courtyards here. With children, as a rule, they walk at playgrounds, which is good to do with kids, but a seven-year-old child, on his own experience, with a 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 sport - 3 hours, or even less per week, which are not all children - will not save. We were engaged in 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 form.
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 necessary to move to the Amazonian jungle. Even a ficus in a pot is already a 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 in nature spend less time than their parents, the need to protect the environment is grafted on them quite actively. My son brought back stickers from the kindergarten explaining the need to sort out the garbage at an affordable level for preschoolers. However, without personal experience and knowledge of the local flora and fauna, nature protection turns into a pure abstraction - such as the struggle for world peace - and the momentum taken care of her in the US, Lev worries, and then slows down.
Original column published on the website Voices of America.
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