Thursday, April 03, 2008

No Child Left Inside

If you are a member of a bird club, have you noticed the utter lack of new, young members joining up in the past decade or so? My bird club certainly has. We are as gray as a winter sky. There simply isn't a crop of young nature enthusiasts coming up, interested in belonging to a club of like-minded souls.

Why?

Because kids today have a million other things vying for their attention and a red-spotted newt or an American redstart has a hard time competing with the latest Wii game or a TV loaded with 300 channels.

To promote The Young Birder's Guide, I've been giving my "No Child Left Inside" presentation, and I'll be giving it more in the coming months. In the talk I discuss how many of today's youngsters are suffering from a "nature deficit disorder" because they spend all of their time inside, on the computer, watching TV, talking on the phone, or playing video games. The only outside time they get is during recess at school or during organized sports activities. That's hardly a connection with the natural world.

Richard Louv, in his best-selling, fascinating book Last Child in the Woods, was one of the first to identify this unsettling trend of kids growing up with no connection to the natural world. If this trend continues unabated, we as a society may face some unfortunate consequences in the future. Studies have shown that children with little or no exposure to nature can develop both emotional and physical problems. Indoor-only childhood time can result in troubled kids.

Furthermore, if today's young people don't know and love nature, whom can we rely upon to be interested in the protection of the natural world in the future? To know something is to value it. And if you value it, you are more likely to want to protect it.

I could go on talking preachily about this topic for an hour. Other adults and organizations are getting involved, too, which is reason for hope. The Boy Scouts of America has redone its bird watching merit badge. The American Birding Association and Leica Sport Optics continue to sponsor youth birding team called the Tropicbirds. Here in Ohio, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory operates the highly effective Ohio Young Birders Club.

I am no evangelist, but I DO feel strongly about giving kids an easy entry to discover the world of birds if they want to. I'm trying to do what I can by giving my talk on this subject as often as possible.

Two upcoming dates where I'll be giving the "No Child Left Inside" presentation, in case you're interested, are Saturday April 12 at Lake Erie Wing Watch in Huron, Ohio, and Sunday, April 13 at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

If you can come, please do, and bring a young birder with you!

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