While the adult world is increasing, it seems that the world of children is only growing smaller – a development that was tellingly illustrated by the British newspaper Daily Mail in 2007: “When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere. It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favorite fishing haunt without adult supervision. Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas’s eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom. He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.”
As described by the situation above, children have lost the right to roam in four generations due to the fear of parents for whatever may happen outside. An alarming development according to Dr William Bird, health adviser to Natural England. “Kids need time to play in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dents,” he said in an conference. If not, he believes their long-term mental health could be at risk.
Several studies have shown that natural environments have direct and positive impacts on well-being. Dr Bird: “Stress levels fall within minutes if people see green spaces. Even filling a home with flowers and plants can improve concentration and lower stress.” In addition, there’s a lot of scientific evidence that suggests that little contact with nature is associated with mental health risks. For example, Dutch researchers have found that a lack of green spaces close to the home of children makes it more likely for them to develop anxiety and depression.
“If children haven’t had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress,” Dr Bird said. As a consequence, the current generation of children may be much less stress resistant and at greater risk of depression and anxiety.
Photo: Laura4Smith / Flickr
Maas, J., Verheij, R.A., de Vries, S., Spreeuwenberg, P., Schellevis, F.G., & Groenewegen, P.P. (2009). Morbidity is related to a green living environment J Epidemiol Community Health DOI: 10.1136/jech.2008.079038