Kids and technology: How to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder

By: Kath Heiman, Photography by: Kath Heiman

Avid overlander, lawyer and mum Kath Heiman will explore the things that make us say “what the?” in her new column.

Kids and technology: How to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder
The term Nature Deficit Disorder was coined in the book Last Child in the Woods to explain how society’s withdrawal from nature affects our children

Am I the only person trying to prevent technology taking over from "real life"? Is anyone else holding out really hard against iPads, Xboxes, and 3D televisions? More importantly, am I alone in feeling that, if I don’t model "Nature’s Number One Advocate" to my three-year-old daughter, she’ll one day be sucked into a technological vortex, never to emerge?

The NSW Healthy Kids website recently reported that 89 per cent of children between four and five-years-old spend more than two hours watching television or DVDs every day. And, in reality, I bet most of these kids spend much more time than this with technology. For my part, I really try to keep control of my daughter’s viewing. But, even so, the irksome truth is that, after a busy day, she can be sitting glued to the set for longer than I’d like.

But I’m determined to keep a grip on this.

My husband and I are firmly resolved that our little ray of sunshine will never suffer from

Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). Truly, it’s a recognised condition…

The term NDD was coined in the book Last Child in the Woods to explain how society’s withdrawal from nature affects our children. The book proposes that lack of routine contact with nature may actually stunt a child’s growth. The symptoms include attention deficit disorder, obesity, anxiety and depression. This condition arises in kids with too much access to the plug-and-play culture drawing them indoors and keeping them there — hour, after hour. While some children may adapt readily to this existence, others don’t — and many of these kids show symptoms of NDD. And why should we be surprised? As a species, I’m sure we’re hard-wired for nature-based stimulation. Why would we want to deny this to our kids?

One reason is because technology can be a great babysitter. While the kids are enthralled in technology, the pressure is off parents to actively engage with them. And I’m convinced that the allure of technology will never be more evident than when you’re facing the prospect of several thousand kilometres on the road. Simply strap the DVD to the vehicle’s headrests and enjoy the peace and quiet as the kids sit anaesthetised with their favourite shows. We’ve all seen it a hundred times. But, just remember, it comes at a cost.

The chief executive of the Western Australian Nature Play organisation recently commented that geography is becoming largely irrelevant to kids heralding "a very real homogenisation of childhood". Well, if I wasn’t concerned before, I certainly am now. Homogenisation is what happens to milk. It shouldn’t happen to kids.

With the pressure of technology bearing down on our daughter, my challenge is to develop in her a strong, principled young person who appreciates the fundamentals in life, and who understands that modern technology is a way to enhance real-life experiences. It’s not a poor substitute for them.

I’m pretty comfortable that our family is off to a good start in this respect. At just six weeks old, our little girl joined us for a 2600km round-trip to meet the grandparents in Queensland.

By now, she’s clocked up around 50,000km on the road. She knows an emu when she sees it, she knows what stars look like and she’s run her fingers through the deep red earth of Australia’s interior. Happily, she routinely asks: "When are we going on holiday?"

She needn’t worry. What’s she’s seen to date is just the start of our long and adventurous life-journey with her. I don’t care how many national parks we need to visit, how much time we need to spend at the beach, or how many kilometres it takes — let Nature Deficit Disorder never afflict our household.

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Check out the full feature in issue #82 November 2014 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.