The man who coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder” says society’s obsession with technology and a fear of strangers is conditioning children to be afraid of the outdoors.

Journalist and author of ‘The Nature Principle’ Richard Louv told CTV’s Canada AM that while nature-deficit disorder is not a known medical diagnosis, it should be.

“People who study child psychology and human development are really looking at the effects of the outdoor world on us, on our physical health and mental health and to some degree our spiritual health.”

Louv pointed to studies out of the University of Illinois that showed that children suffering from attention deficit disorder saw their symptoms reduced with minimal contact with nature.

“We’re talking about kids in the projects of Chicago being looked at, and just a walk through a park with trees can significantly change (the symptoms).”

The California-based author said some kids are spending 54 hours a week plugged into some kind of electronic medium, and while the hours spent in front of a computer continue to increase, so do child and adult obesity rates.

However, Louv said it’s not just video games and the Internet keeping children inside during the warm summer days. Kids often face many restrictions when it comes to playing outside, he said, adding that some communities have outlawed chalk drawing on sidewalks.

“We’re sending these messages to kids that nature is in the past and it probably doesn’t matter any more.”

Louv added that the outdoors is often perceived as a “scary place.”
“Parents are terrified of stranger danger and that permeates in many ways and it ends up becoming a fear of nature itself.”

The former columnist pointed out that the number of stranger abductions has decreased over the last 20 years in North America, however, the amount of news coverage that’s given to crimes against children has seen a sharp rise.

“Our profession is conditioning people to live in a state of fear.”

Louv added that neighbourhood design also plays a role in keeping kids indoors.

“We tell kids to go on walk, well walk where in some of these neighbourhoods?” he asked. “It’s not just a question of urban design and a lack of sidewalks and a lack of parks down the street, it’s also the rules and regulations that so many of the communities live under now.”