Happy New Year from Nebraska Project WILD! How has everyone been feeling? Have the winter blues gotten ahold of you? Is cabin fever making you twitchy? Well folks, even though our days are slowly filling with more light we still have eight weeks till the first day of spring.
I’m not gonna lie. Neither I nor my children have been getting outside and reaping the benefits nature has to offer as much as I know is necessary for the emotional stability of my family. I am an outdoor educator for crying out loud. I know better and I wholly and completely subscribe to the theory, and mounting supportive research, that spending time in nature has a profound positive effect on emotional health. As we all know emotional health is a key ingredient to happiness and contentment, therefore I pay close attention to the emotional health of myself and those I love.
Ah, but the allure of technological illumination can be a sneaky temptress. Although my family does go entire days without staring at a screen, compared to the average American who spends about 9 hours a day, we tend to indulge during the cold months. Between work and school, I have been finding the precious hours I have with my kids slowly eaten up by screen time. I can see the tell-tale symptoms of what some call, direct attention fatigue. What’s that? Direct attention fatigue you ask? Well let’s take a moment:
“Directed attention fatigue (DAF) is a neurological symptom which occurs when the inhibitory attention system, that part of the brain which allows us to concentrate in the face of distractions, becomes fatigued. Signs of directed attention fatigue include temporarily feeling unusually distractible, impatient, forgetful, or cranky when there is no associated illness. In more severe forms, it can lead to bad judgment, apathy, or accidents, and can contribute to increased stress levels. DAF is caused by concentrating too much in the midst of external or internal distractions. Inhibitory attention chemicals are replenished during sleep, so lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of directed attention fatigue.”
Furthermore, studies have linked television watching to ADHD. Researchers at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle determined, ”…that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10 percent the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders (ADDs) by age 7.” Although our understanding of the links between overuse of screen time and ADD/ADHD symptoms is not entirely clear having any of the associated symptoms does not sound like a recipe for family bliss.
The point is, I can feel it. I can see these symptoms creeping up on me during these dark winter months and I can see them in my children as well. If I don’t get my act together I could be in for a full-blown winter meltdown before it’s all over which may not be the best example to set for my kids. Not to mention I have a fully fledged, in the midst of all things hormonal, teenager. Aren’t they prone to meltdowns every other day? Since I share their time with their father, I will also have to employ some time management skills as well.
I am searching for a prescription for that which ails me. So I have enlisted the help of Richard Louv. In his book “Last Child in the Woods” he coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder or, to add another acronym, NDD. Nature Deficit Disorder describes, “…the human costs of our detachment from the natural world which symptoms include, diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.” His most recent book “Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health and Happiness of Your Family and Community and Combat Nature Deficit Disorder” stirred up a host of Vitamin N nature challenges amongst outdoor families across the country. Louv has described the ailment and prescribed an antidote.
Time Outdoors is Time Well Spent