By Kaitlyn Williams
When waking up to another chilling day in Vermont, it’s easy to want to pull the blankets back over yourself, or stay inside with a hot cup of coffee and do homework. With the weather being freezing nearly every day, and with piles of schoolwork, it is difficult to have the energy or time to go outsidemBut that can cause a problem– lack of time spent outdoors by students can lead to something called nature deficit disorder.
“Looking back on the last month of college, the only outdoor time that I spend currently is walking to and from class, which is so depressing to think about,” said Rebecca Kuttner, Biology Major, 21. “That’s the only time that I get to spend in nature now.” She had never heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder before. Many people have not heard of the term Nature-Deficit Disorder and don’t realize it could be an issue affecting them. For Kimberly Sultze, a Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts professor, it’s an important part of self awareness for students and she has educated students on the term to raise awareness.
“Nature Deficit Disorder was a term coined by Richard Louv who wrote the book Last Child in the Woods. He wrote the book to emphasize the idea that American children of the current generation are growing up increasingly spending less time outdoors and in natural environments than they used to in previous generations.” Too little nature can lead to a high level of agitation, quick attention shifts, and anxiety, Sultze said. All that can be exacerbated by the pressure of using devices that continuously cause you to switch between tasks. You can’t slow down, Sultze said, because there are so many things to keep up with.”
For those in Generation Z, many did not spend as much time outdoors as previous generations. For my parents and grandparents, growing up used to mean exploring in the neighborhood with friends and playing pirates with swords made of sticks. However, that changed for our generation with the popularity of the internet. Instead of going outside and playing with friends outside, many spent their
childhoods online. What started out as playing Webkinz or Barbie.com as a kid has grown into an addiction to the internet for many. People are developing online instead of outdoors with their own imagination. This translates into our adult lives as we carry our habits from childhood into adulthood. Pauline Gaucher, who directs the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Camp in Mystic, CT said she strives to
bring nature into the lives of children growing up. “It develops a connection to the natural world. As people, we protect and support the things we care about. That begins with the connection. The love becomes intrinsic. Also, in our current society, it counters screen time.
Most people carry around a smart phone everywhere they go, never allowing it to leave their side. “The concept is that the smartphone is a desirable distracter,” Sultze explained, ” It’s an object of your obsession or addiction. The closer it is to you the more you are aware of it and it’s capable of distracting you even when you are not using it. It’s just the potential that it represents.” Having it on our person all the time while being out and about adds extra pressure and contributes to the idea of mthe fear of missing out or “FOMO.” Last semester, Rebecca Kuttner spent her time in Patagonia, where she experienced a new kind of classroom– nature. She went to a program called The School for Field Studies where she was able to do field-based work and learned outdoors nearly every day. “I had a class on volcanoes, on glaciers, and we would get to go and see and talk about that.” She said she believes that being outside in nature during her time abroad helped her mental health compared to being in Vermont. In her experience, “Especially camping and going to bed when the sun goes down and waking up with the sun rises makes you feel in tune with nature.”
During her study abroad she had no cell-phone service so she only ever used her phone to take pictures, or use it occasionally when she could find wifi. ‘’My screen time was down to maybe an hour and half two hours a day… that still sounds like a lot.. Now, I’m embarrassed to say the [hours]. It’s up so much since then” she said laughing. z“In coming back to Vermont I have noticed a change. Especially screen time that [Apple] they sends you everyday.”
Being in Vermont in the winter, there aren’t many options to go outside because it is so cold, but it might be worth bundling up and taking a walk around Gillbroke Nature Trail, or the nature trail across the street from our campus. The Adventure Sports Center offers great opportunities for getting outside in nature as well. nature is grounding, Gaucher said. It heals, increases overall health from all the climbing, walking, running, moving and breathing and observing the natural world up close increases curiosity, imagination and creativity.