Who's Afraid of "Big Bad Nature"? Far Too Many Kids

Park rangers have observed that a fear of nature is growing in kids and adults

Posted Jul 11, 2014

Valerie Belt, a Los Angeles teacher, constantly sends me emails about essays dealing with all sorts of topics that center on nonhuman animals (animals) and human-animal relationships (anthrozoology). If a day passes without my receiving something from Valerie I fear something has happened to her! 

This morning Valerie alerted me to a most disturbing essay by Judy Molland called "Why Are Kids Afraid Of Nature?" It's free and online so you can read it and my main purpose here is to alert you to this sad trend among children and adults. It begins, "Rangers at National Wildlife Refuges are discovering a new phenomenon this summer: young visitors are often scared of nature, whether it’s creepy crawlies, spiders, bats, snakes, or sometimes even ladybugs and fish." Ms. Molland also notes, "Kids Consume Almost 11 Hours A Day Of Electronic Entertainment", and writes, "We know that children spend increasingly longer amounts of time indoors, and on their electronic devices: a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time “media multitasking” (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into each day." And, this was four years ago.

The conclusion to this essay is right on the mark: "Whatever it takes, let’s get rid of the fear. The dangers of staying home, sitting all day staring at a screen while munching on corn chips and drinking soda, are far greater than getting off that couch and stepping outside!" I've always been an advocate of "wild play" out in nature and I'm reminded of the slogan of Play Wales, "Better a broken bone than a broken spirit." 

We must overcome the unwilding that begins early in life: Getting down and dirty

In my forthcoming book Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence I argue that far too many kids have become "unwilded" and that it's essential that they "rewild" as early as possible so that they come to appreciate nature and other animals and so that they don't get into bad habits of sitting on their butts staring at computer screens and other electronic devices. Surely conservation psychologists and conservation social workers can help us along in learning how to overcome the unwilding. Perhaps the process can begin with interactions with the companion animals with whom so many people share their homes or animals in backyards or local parks. I also suggest that we need to "rewild education" to allow youngsters to get out into nature and to get down and dirty. Little would be lost and much would be gained.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff