By Ernesto Prada and

the Santa Fe High School Advocacy Journalism class

 

Nature deficit disorder (NDD) isn’t something you can be diagnosed with or take medicine for. Although it is linked to rising rates of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and type 2 diabetes, it’s not a medical condition. NDD is linked to the lack of spending time in the natural world and especially to a sedentary lifestyle.

Eighty percent of youth under 21 spend an average of 6-8 hours in front of a screen, mostly indoors—be it a TV, cellphone, computer or iPod. Many teens who have heard about NDD say that they don’t watch any TV at all, so how could they be susceptible to NDD? What about Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr? We teenagers are constantly online, whether we like to admit it or not. I know because I’m one of them. Often we are multi-tasking with three or four electronic devices, our attention and consciousness scattered and diffuse, encouraging or aggravating ADD symptoms. Many children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD are often serious video gamers or television watchers who have spent an average of 3-6 hours gaming since they were small. Avid video gaming can create overproduction of adrenaline, which can induce cycles of hyperactivity and then a crash of fatigue, which can lead to insomnia or depression. Then, in turn, many teens turn to chemical reliance on energy drinks, drugs and even prescribed medication.

The idea that we as a generation spend more time sitting or lying around indoors rather than outside enjoying the autumn weather is honestly, very scary. Add to this behavior a terrible diet of junk food with huge amounts of salt and sugar, and you get an unhealthy, even dangerously lethal cocktail of early-onset physical and mental problems. Being a teenager is already challenging, and when you put depression or diabetes into the equation, things can get incredibly rocky.

As a teen, I don’t want to be another victim of technology, do you? According to howstuffworks.com, walking outside daily can be incredibly beneficial in helping prevent depression and obesity. Simply taking walks can help ensure self-mastery, power and control. Connecting with nature, fresh air and sunlight can feed you physically, emotionally and even spiritually. You might say that these are the ultimate highs—natural highs, that is. We all know that these things are true, but is knowing without acting on that knowledge enough? When you become detached from nature and accustomed to being indoors under artificial light, as we unnaturally do in school from an early age and in our homes, it becomes a habit that is hard to break.

When you think of the consequences, short- and long-term, you begin to see how important nature is. Last month, the Academy for Sustainability at Santa Fe High School took a group of students from the Forestry and Wildlife class, the AP Environmental Science class, Botany and Documentary Video classes, into the mountains to learn about coniferous forests, watersheds, fire and forest management, climate change and nature deficit disorder. As we sat under the golden quaking aspen and beautiful ponderosa, douglas firs, blue spruce and other towering trees, Aaron, a scientist and forestry expert, told us about the evolution of fire management and the link between climate changes and the pine and aspen die-off occurring all over the planet. It was scary to think that greenhouse gas increases, much of which is human-induced, combined with ecosystem shifts, are threatening our very existence. In our own lifetime, even by 2050, scientists think we may not have coniferous forests and aspen in the Santa Fe National Forest. We may have to show pictures to our children or grandchildren.

We talked about what we could do and how education could be transformed to help counter the oncoming situation. Dominique Garcia said, “I love the natural world. It helps me relieve stress and helps me realize how big and beautiful our world is. I always grew up around nature, went camping and hiking, and I learned to appreciate it. I think kids need to have more education about nature, how to appreciate it and take care of it. Not a lot of us have that kind of education. Schools need to realize how important this is.” Sophie Richards agreed and added, “The youth of today are constantly surrounded by electronics and advertisements. Buying into it is almost completely unavoidable. They don’t always have a higher influence from parents, and therefore they don’t learn that being in nature is, in fact, better for your physical and mental health. The youth must be informed by others who spend time in nature to follow in their path.”

I hope we can put some of our ideas into action in the near future. After all, we the youth are inheriting these problems and need to learn more about what to do. We need to care about our natural world, as it is the only one we have. One of the most impactful things we can do is to spend more time outdoors creating a relationship with the natural world and also helping ourselves prevent or remedy nature deficit disorder.

 

Ernesto Prada, a senior at Santa Fe High School, has written for the school paper, Demon Tattler. He is passionate about youth activism, youth voting and community organizing for student and human rights. He will be proudly graduating in May 2013, one of the first in his family to do so.

 

[SIDEBAR:]

LOOK AROUND YOU

by Victoria Gonzales, SFHS Student

Look around this Home. This Wonderland we’ve never known.

This emptying picture that’s become unknown.

Look around you now or you’ll never know.

Smell the fire, the burning flame, See the singeing, the bark aflame.

Feel the pain that’s become today and realize that it’s come to be because…

The question is a mocker, the answer’s what I refuse to see; yet it still is a reality.

But for why it had to be.

The wind is angry, the trees are screaming, the animals scurrying,

The birds retreating.

The war reveals how it all came to be, a war between Nature

And our destructive humanity.