Nature-deficit disorder

Nature deficit disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods [1] that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors [2] resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.[3][4] This disorder is not recognized in any of the medical manuals for mental disorders, such as the ICD-10[5] or the DSM-5.[6] Evidence was compiled and reviewed in 2009.[7]

Louv claims that causes for the phenomenon include parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of the screen.[8] Recent research has drawn a further contrast between the declining number of National Park visits in the United States and increasing consumption of electronic media by children.[9]

Richard Louv spent ten years traveling around the USA reporting and speaking to parents and children, in both rural and urban areas, about their experiences in nature. He argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally "scared children straight out of the woods and fields", while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors "safe" regimented sports over imaginative play.

In recognising these trends, some people[10] argue that humans have an instinctive liking for nature—the biophilia hypothesis—and take steps to spend more time outdoors, for example in outdoor education, or by sending young children to forest kindergartens or forest schools. It is perhaps a coincidence that slow parenting advocates sending children into natural environments rather than keeping them indoors, as part of a hands-off approach.[11]

Nature is not only to be found in National Parks.Detroit, arising due to downtown decay.

The diagnosis has been criticized as a misdiagnosis that obscures and mistreats the problem of how and why children do not spend enough time outdoors and in nature.[13]


  • Parents are keeping children indoors in order to keep them safe from danger. Richard Louv believes we may be protecting children to such an extent that it has become a problem and disrupts the child's ability to connect to nature. The parent’s growing fear of "stranger danger" that is heavily fueled by the media,[14] keeps children indoors and on the computer rather than outdoors exploring. Louv believes this may be the leading cause in Nature Deficit Disorder, as parents have a large amount of control and influence in their children's lives.
  • Loss of natural surroundings in a child's neighborhood and city. Many parks and nature preserves have restricted access and "do not walk off the trail" signs. Environmentalists and educators add to the restriction telling children "look don't touch". While they are protecting the natural environment Louv questions the cost of that protection on our children's relationship with nature.[14]
  • Increased draw to spend more time inside. With the advent of the computer, video games, and television children have more and more reasons to stay inside - the average American child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media.[14]


  • Children have limited respect for their immediate natural surroundings. Louv says the effects of nature deficit disorder on our children will be an even bigger problem in the future. "An increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature…has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of the Earth itself".[15] The effects from Nature Deficit Disorder could lead to the first generation being at risk of having a shorter lifespan then their parents.[16]
  • Attention disorders and depression may develop. "It's a problem because kids who don't get nature-time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems". Louv suggests that going outside and being in the quiet and calm can help greatly.[14] According to a University of Illinois study, interaction with nature has proven to reduce symptoms of ADD in children. According to research, "Overall, our findings indicate that exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children".[17] Attention Restoration Theory develops this idea further, both in short term restoration of one's abilities, and the long term ability to cope with stress and adversity.
  • Following the development of ADD and mood disorders, lower grades in school also seem to be related to NDD. Louv claims that "studies of students in California and nationwide show that schools that use outdoor classrooms and other forms of experiential education produce significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math".[18]
  • Childhood obesity has become a growing problem. About 9 million children (ages 6–19) are overweight or obese. The Institute of Medicine claims that over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled for adolescents and more than tripled for children aged 6–11.[16]
  • In an interview on Public School Insight, Louv stated some positive effects of treating Nature Deficit Disorder, "everything from a positive effect on the attention span to stress reduction to creativity, cognitive development, and their sense of wonder and connection to the earth".[15]
  • Lack of exposure to bright light (at outdoor levels) among children contributes to myopia due to lack of resulting chemical signals to prevent elongation of the eye during the growth phase.[19][20]


The No Child Left Inside Coalition works to get children outside and actively learning. They hope to address the problem of nature deficit disorder. They are now working on the No Child Left Inside Act, which would increase environmental education in schools. The coalition claims the problem of nature deficit disorder could be helped by "igniting student's interest in the outdoors" and encouraging them to explore the natural world in their own lives.[21]

In Colombia, OpEPA (Organización para la Educación y Protección Ambiental - [4]) has been addressing the issue for over 10 years. OpEPA's mission is to reconnect children and youth to the Earth so they can act with environmental responsibility. OpEPA works by linking three levels of education: intellectual, experiencial and emotional/spiritual.


Several people have evaluated and critiqued nature deficit disorder. Among them is Elizabeth Dickinson, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has studied nature deficit disorder in combination with a forest environmental education program. Dickinson analyzed the language Louv and K-12 forest educators use to talk about environmental and child-nature problems and the assumptions adults have about the environment and people. Dickinson shows how science and naming, two practices Louv and educators promote as solutions, are themselves part of the problem. Other kinds of educational practices like emotional connection and non-naming can be used to better address the problem.[13] A summary of the paper from the author in the article is below:

This study examines and critiques ‘‘nature-deficit disorder’’ (NDD), Richard Louv’s popular theory of how and why children are alienated from nature. Specifically, I explore NDD within the context of one forest conservation education program that aligns with and operationalizes Louv’s message. Underlying Louv’s and forest educators’ discourses are culturally specific assumptions about human-nature relationships. Both evoke a fall-recovery narrative—that children are separated from nature and must return—and promote science and naming to reconnect. I argue that, in the absence of deeper cultural examination and alternative practices, NDD is a misdiagnosis—a problematic contemporary environmental discourse that can obscure and mistreat the problem. I call on adults to rethink human-nature disconnectedness by returning to the psyche, digging deeper to the problem’s cultural roots, and using nontraditional communication practices such as emotional expression and non-naming.'[13]

Further reading

  • Louv, Richard. (2011) The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books. 303pp.
  • Louv, Richard. (2005) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Paperback edition). Algonquin Books. 335pp.
  • Louv, Richard, Web of Life: Weaving the Values That Sustain Us.


External links

  • Richard Louv's website
  • Children & Nature Network
  • Nature Rocks, initiative by Richard Louv and Children & Nature Network to inspire and empower parents to connect children to nature
  • NWF's Green Hour website
  • An interview with Richard Louv about the need to get kids out into nature, by David Roberts, The Grist: Environmental News and Commentary, 30 Mar 2006.
  • Saving kids from nature-deficit disorder - May 25, 2005, NPR
  • Public School Insights' Interview with Richard Louv - April 22, 2008
  • Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside Initiative
  • Planet Ark's Research Report on Children & Nature in Australia
  • Wise, Sam. Book Review/Response: Last Child in the Woods.
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