“I like to play indoors better,” a fourth grader told Richard Louv, “because that’s where the electrical outlets are.” In his bestselling 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, journalist and author Louv argues that never before has a generation of children been so separated from the natural world. The consequences, he says, can be seen in trends such as increases in obesity, stress, and psychiatric disorders among our kids. With the declining number of outdoorsmen indicated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent National Survey, F&S; thought it was a good time to ask Louv about his theories.
F&S;: The USFWS is now reporting another drop in the number of sportsmen. What do you make of that?
R.L.: No surprise whatsoever. It’s consistent with what we’re seeing all over the country. In a typical week, only 6 percent of kids aged 9 to 13 play outside on their own.
F&S;: You coined the term nature-deficit disorder. What, really, do our kids miss out on by not being outside?
R.L.: We don’t know yet. But the scientists I’ve talked to point out that only in the natural world are all five senses engaged at once in a positive way. Many of them believe the rise in sensory- and neurological-integration disorders in our kids are the results of our changed lifestyle. We’re genetically hardwired to be hunter-gatherers and to be outside. You can’t replace that with an Xbox and not see consequences.
F&S;: You have a section in the book called “The Case for Hunting and Fishing.” Do you think sportsmen’s advocacy groups are getting more kids out there?
R.L.: A lot of organizations are trying to do just that. But I question how much everyone is really doing their part. While I was working on an earlier book, I joined a bass tournament on Lake Erie, and I kept hearing guys in bass boats saying they didn’t have time to take their own kids fishing. And I’m not picking on bass anglers. My son and I belong to a flyfishing club in San Diego with 400 or 500 members. We’ve been going for about a decade. And for years, my son has been the only one at meetings without gray hair.
F&S;: You talk about how it only takes one adult to ignite a passion for the outdoors in a child.
R.L.: Yes, absolutely. My Grandpa Barron used to give me old issues of Field & Stream, and I’d devour them. Ed Zern was my role model and hero. The first thing to remember about taking a kid outside is that it’s not about the skill of fishing or hunting itself. Don’t get hung up on doing it right. For a child, turning over rocks and finding insects or worms is where the wonder comes in. The biggest gift you can give a child is your enthusiasm.
I almost feel like your readers are ahead of the game because they’re among the ever-dwindling number of people who get it. The problem is that most adults in this country don’t participate in hunting and fishing. I think we’d get a lot more support if we emphasized our sports as ways to save children’s health, rather than saving fishing and hunting for their own sake. There are millions of people who couldn’t care less about hunting. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was apathetic about raising happier, healthier children. I think we could get a lot of those folks on our side.
—Interview by Bill Heavey