Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Does your child have Nature Deficit Disorder?

A new book says that children today need to get outside more - and that, despite the perceived dangers, parents should let them play without being watched over... Jeeezuz! This lady is talking about the carefree world of the '80s. It would probably make her hair stand on end to hear what I did freely and unsupervised as a kid of grade-school age in the '50s! Routinely standing on the slimy lip of a cross-river cable ferry as it made its crossings; wading knee deep through the mud of mangroves, wandering barefoot through towering fields of sugarcane that were also home to various poisonous creatures; walking around casually on high-up pitched roofs, etc. etc. My parents rarely knew where I was or what I was doing when I was out and about but looked after me well in other ways. It was just a time when kids were allowed to be kids and what I chose to do was fine as long as I got home in time for tea. Mothers in those days used to go out to their front fence and "call in" their kids at the time of the evening meal -- assuming that their kids were somewhere in the neighbourhood playing with other kids but without knowing at all exactly where the kids were or what they were doing.

It was easier for the neighbourhood when my brother Christopher was a kid, however. He was and is very popular and was always doing interesting things with Ko Karts etc. So all the neighbourhood kids would always be at our place playing with Christopher. So, come tea-time, local parents would just amble down to our place and call their kids from our front fence. I led a much more solitary life than my brother but, because I wandered about more, I think that may have exposed me to a wider range of experiences -- and I certainly enjoyed my life. And I am glad that the great trust that my parents obviously reposed in me never went remotely awry in the small country town where we lived -- JR

In a sunlit corner of the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, south-west London, my daughter, Clemmie, two, is bending perilously over a pond. "Mummy! Green stuff! Fishies," she coos. Entranced, her sister, Sasha, four, stares at a butterfly. "He is my friend," she declares. Watching them, my heart swells with delighted relief. Like most parents, I am terrorised by images of my 21st-century children growing up sun-starved and chubby, wedded to their Nintendo console and thinking that bacon comes from cows and that milk is concocted in a backroom lab at Tesco.

Next month the pressure to give our children more access to nature will intensify further with the UK publication of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. A huge bestseller in Louv's native US, the book caused a mini revolution when it was first published in 2005, leading to the forming of the international Children and Nature Network, campaigning to reconnect with the outdoor world.

A former journalist, Louv coined the phrase "nature deficit disorder", arguing that children suffer physically and mentally from lack of contact with nature and pointing out that today's generation are the first to be raised without "meaningful contact with the natural world". Louv's is by no means a lone voice. A recent report by Play England, the campaigning group for children, showed that the "radius of activity", meaning the distance from home children are allowed to play unsupervised, has declined by 90 per cent since the Seventies. Another report by Natural England revealed that 81 per cent of children would love more play outside. Eighty five per cent of parents agreed, but said fears about traffic and predatory strangers deterred them.

Certainly, the difference between my early-Eighties childhood and today's paranoid world is marked. My brother and cousins spent holidays at our granny's in the Scottish Borders where we enjoyed a Just William-type existence: paddling in the river, exploring derelict buildings and scratching our legs on brambles. Only recently did I realise that just a few miles away, at this time, 11-year-old Susan Maxwell was abducted, raped and murdered by the serial child killer Robert Black. The following year he did the same to five-year-old Caroline Hogg, just 27 miles from us in Portobello, Lothian. I ask my mother if she was worried or even knew of Black's activities.

"I was aware, but I wasn't really concerned. You were in the middle of nowhere, who was going to swoop in and kidnap you? But I think my post-war generation has a different concept of danger to people today." Indeed they do. "We live in a tiny village in Devon, where everyone knows everyone, but my neighbours are always saying, 'You can't be too careful these days,' whereas I think you definitely can be too careful," says Tom Hodgkinson, father of three children aged nine, seven and four, and author of The Idle Parent.

"We let our children wander as far as possible before the traffic gets too dangerous, but people tell them off and say: 'Go home, where are your parents?' You have to fight the prejudices of friends and neighbours who've been told constantly how awful the world is and who've understandably let it sink in." Yet most parents know from experience that the easiest way to calm fractious children is to go outside. Louv backs this up by citing the biophilia theory, coined by a Harvard biologist in 1984, which says that humans are still essentially hunters and gatherers, who biologically require natural contact to thrive.

Louv believes that dozens of maladies from depression to attention deficit disorder can be triggered by alienation from nature and remedied when the contact increases. "The woods were my Ritalin," he writes. Dozens of studies have shown significant decreases in blood pressure in people looking at an aquarium or surveying an open landscape.

Louv also points out that while children today worry about saving the Amazon rainforest, few have ever lain on a forest floor, and that the epidemic in childhood obesity has coincided with the huge rise in children's organised sport which – ironically – leaves no spare time to run around aimlessly.

Nigel Lowthorp knows first hand the transformative effects of nature. At Hill Holt Wood, near Norton Disney, Lincolnshire, Lowthorp has founded a centre for up to 20 boys, aged mainly between 14 to 16, who have been excluded from mainstream education, many of whom have been involved in crime, are illiterate and come from troubled homes. After two years of coppicing overgrown trees, clearing dead undergrowth and chopping logs in the 34-acre wood, the vast majority go on to higher education or employment, an achievement few schools can rival. "Most will have never been in a rural environment before and it absolutely calms them. When they have their mad moments we send them off into a clearing to sit under a tree and listen to the birds and just think, and the rage vanishes."

Louv believes that children who are not allowed to take risks with nature are more likely to lack creativity and confidence and to court danger in other ways. Lowthorp agrees. "We give 14-year-olds a bill hook, saw and slasher to cut down rhododendrons and show them the basic idea, but a lot of it is about having a go. Sometimes the knife slips and they cut themselves. We have boys who've been carrying around knives in gangs, who faint when they see their own blood. It's how they learn a knife can cause serious damage and to use it responsibly."

The advantages are felt much younger too. A representative from Louv's Children's and Nature Network recently visited the Farley Outdoor Nursery in Salisbury, Wilshire, where children spend virtually all day outside, whatever the weather. Even the six-month-old babies spend much of the day in the sandpit or napping in prams with a view of the sky.

Tracy Frick, whose son, Rafe, four, has attended the nursery for two years, is evangelical about the children's bravery. "They know that nettles sting, that ponds can be dangerous, but they are not frightened. So many parents put the fear of God into their children and wrap them in cotton wool but these children know the consequences of their actions, they know that nature can be dangerous but in a very level-headed sort of way. They pick blackberries from the hedge but my son tells me: 'I can't eat too many or they'll make me ill and I can't eat some berries at all.' "

While such stories are inspiring, I can't help wondering if Louv will only encourage earnest parents to add "building campfires" to their children's activity list, alongside Mandarin and flute. Hodgkinson, for one, has found it challenging to convert his eldest son to wholesome activities. "I have to physically pull Arthur away from his computer to play in the tree house I built – in fact I've seriously thought of installing a broadband connection to lure him in. He'd far rather look at an ornithology website than go outside and see a real bird. Humans have striven for the past 500 years to better nature with technology so it's hardly surprising our children are seduced by it."

Nor is it just children. Back at the Wetlands, Clemmie and Sasha are blissfully collecting wild flowers and clamouring to play Pooh sticks. Meanwhile – despite my free-range childhood – I am wondering how I can sneak off for a coffee and to read the papers. "My children are always telling me off for spending too much time on the computer," Hodgkinson sympathises. "I'm a fireside lurker at heart, not an outdoorsman. The trick is to start them building a log cabin and, once they've got going, you can rush inside and check your emails."


British police on the side of the wrongdoers again

Father convicted for assault after suffering years of abuse from youths who threatened to rape his daughter, 7

A father who stood up to youths after a two-year campaign of abuse has been convicted of assault after reaching the 'end of his tether'. David Magson told a court he was forced to endure months of abuse and vandalism from a gang - including a threat to rape his seven-year-old daughter. The father-of-two marched outside his Leicester home with a rounders bat to have it out with youths who had 'tormented' him and his neighbours for years. But he found himself in the dock on an assault charge after striking one of them with the bat and pushing him over.

The bus driver was handed an 18-month community order at Leicester Crown Court and told to attend an anger management course after he admitted causing actual bodily harm and being in possession of an offensive weapon.

Today he said youths from a local hostel had been responsible for the trouble - but the authorities had failed to deal with them. He and his neighbours had repeatedly complained to the police, the hostel and the city council about their behaviour, but nothing was done, he said. Mr Magson said: 'Personally I think it's wrong that people can run amok and do what they want and terrorise people. It's about time the police were given the authority to deal with these people. 'Due to drugs and alcohol, they are not thought to be responsible for their actions.

'People such as me and you, if we go out and confront them, because we are sensible, decent and hard-working people we have to take responsibility for our actions.' He added: 'I've had eggs thrown at my windows. On the night in question it was the third time my car had been vandalised. They've tried to mug me twice. 'One day I got a smack in the face on my way to work. On another occasion, when I went to complain, I was urinated on from an upstairs window.'

On March 21, as he was watching television at home with his young children James,11, and Katie, seven, a neighbour rang to tell him his car was being vandalised. Mr Magson went outside, armed with the bat, to complain to hostel staff. He was confronted and goaded by a number of youths and Mr Magson struck out. His victim suffered a minor head injury when he was pushed.

Police officers arrived and the resident told them he was a member of a community group who were fed up with the incessant problems. But he was arrested and later charged. Sentencing him, Judge Ian Collis said: 'I'm sure you were at the end of your tether. I accept you were under extreme provocation.'

Mr Magson said the situation in his street has improved since his brush with the law. Police patrols have been stepped up and a change of management has seen the behaviour of the hostel's residents improve, he said. But he added: 'It's a pity it involved me being prosecuted, before anything was done about the problem.'

Mr Magson could soon find himself in court again, however, as a victim of violent crime. Five days after his arrest, he was left nearly blind in one eye when he was attacked with a pint glass in Leicester city centre. His defence lawyer Rebecca Herbert, told the court: 'He cannot say the youths who glassed him had anything to do with the hostel, but he has his suspicions.'


Why ads paint dads as buffoons

In commercial after commercial on TV, the image of the modern husband and father is one of the buffoon - trapped in a shed he built without doors, staring blankly at spilled juice, gorging on dog cookies until his ever-capable wife comes to the rescue.

Such ads are a mainstay because they work: They make viewers laugh, and they sell. And, also, critics argue, because such stereotyping remains socially acceptable. "WASP men are the greatest target in advertising. The reason I say that is they are the only safe target in advertising," said Terry O'Reilly of Pirate Toronto, a leading audio advertising firm, and host of The Age of Persuasion, a CBC radio show. "When you make fun of a white, Anglo-Saxon male, husband, dad, you don't get a single letter of complaint."

In his 30-year career in advertising, Mr. O'Reilly has never received a letter from anybody offended by the gentle fun he pokes at dads. But in an age when fathers are expected to take on a greater role at home -- changing diapers and clipping coupons, while also earning a paycheque -- portrayals of Dad as a bumbling fool are troubling to those who would like to see more equality in the domestic realm. "It's deeply sexist, but what's even more troubling is that it's invisible as a form of sexism," said Dr. Kerry Daly, who runs the Fatherhood Involvement Research Alliance at Guelph University. "They laugh, and it's funny, so there's the licence to laugh without the concern for the impact that it has. And I think it does have a significant impact, in continuing to reinforce negative behaviours associated with fathering and men's behaviour."

Fathers' rights advocates have begun boycotting companies that run ads they deem offensive. Since 2004, the Advertising Standards Council of Canada, the advertising industry's regulatory agency, has upheld seven complaints against advertisers accused of treating men unfairly. In one of the cases, a father in Calgary filed a complaint against home-improvement store Rona. The spot showed a female customer lamenting that her husband does not help around the house. A female salesperson responded, "They're all like that, aren't they?" The advertising council deemed the clerk's comment "disparaging" because it implied all husbands are lazy.

Such depictions of men frustrate Don Dymond, a fathers' rights activist and chemical engineer in Fort St. John, B.C. One night last January, he sat in front of his television and took notes as he watched how often men were portrayed as "smart," or "dumb" or "neutral." Tallying his notes, he concluded the ads portrayed men as dumb five times more often than women.

One of the offenders in his admittedly unscientific survey was Bounty paper towels. In the ad, a man and his son watch spilled liquid seeping towards a rug, as a glass still lays on its side in front of them. As they debate how many paper towel sheets it will take to clean up the spreading mess (three- or four-sheeter?), Mom capably settles the debate, ripping off one sheet of paper towel and walking over to clean up.

"Once you open your mind to it, and you sit and you watch every single commercial on TV, anybody would start seeing this," said Mr. Dymond. He fears the effect they will have on his young sons. "What message are we sending out? ... If none of this turns around, what do we think it's going to be like in 20 years?"

Alison Thomas, a college professor of sociology in B.C., ponders the same question. Her own husband often cringes when offending ads flash on their television screen. For years, Prof. Thomas has studied the depiction of parental roles in Mother's Day and Father's Day cards. Her research, gleaned from studying hundreds of greeting cards, shows that fathers are typically characterized as flatulent, lazy shirkers who are subordinate to their wives and flounder with household tasks. Mothers, on the other hand, are portrayed as always there, always busy and always right.

Such humourous messages could have far-reaching consequences for both genders, Prof. Thomas said. "It reinforces for women and men alike the idea that this really isn't men's normal home turf, that they're not able to be good at it, and therefore, why bother?" Prof. Thomas said. "As a feminist, I find that problematic, because while it appears to be empowering women - saying women are superior, women are supermoms, they can do everything, men can't really do this stuff -- what's the outcome going to be? That women carry on doing it all."


Australia: Old lady penalized by government for having a small amount of savings

If she had blown all her money on "recreational" drugs, she would have got a tick of approval!

Astrid Bieler is 72 and has four screws in her spine, but in less than three weeks Housing NSW will evict her from the flat where she has lived for the past 10 years. When she was among the first to move into the Tweed Heads development for over 55s, Ms Bieler hoped to remain in her new home for the rest of her days. The flat was purpose built for aging singles like her, she had friends in the area where she had lived for 12 years and she could manage the $130-weekly rent.

In July the landlord, Alby Ross, who had built and run her complex, advised his tenants that he was putting the Banora Point property on the market... It was quickly bought by Housing NSW, which then screened the tenants to work out who could stay and who must go. Ms Bieler desperately wanted to stay but was told that even though she was on a full pension she was too young [at 72??], not sick enough and, with life savings of $20,000 and 5000 Telstra shares [worth $16,000 at current market value], too wealthy.

The department gave her six months to find somewhere else, and when she failed to move, gave her a final month. It has now advised her she will have to leave to make way for someone more deserving unless her last-minute appeal to a Housing Appeals Committee is successful. A spokeswoman for the Housing Minister, David Borger, confirmed Ms Bielder would have to move out but denied she was eligible for public housing, a claim Ms Bielder says is simply wrong. "I was approved for public housing and put on the waiting list in Tweed Heads in August," she said.

Mr Borger's spokeswoman said the department regretted evicting aging tenants but Ms Bielder's savings meant she had to make way for others less fortunate. "Unfortunately, the reality is that there are many people who are doing it tough who need help from Housing NSW - people with no assets at all, no family and who also suffer serious health problems." The department has been trying to help her find accommodation, suggesting options such as caravan parks and places for sale. [What could she buy with $20,000??]

"I just want to stay where I live, where I have my friends," she said. "I can't understand why a government department is doing this to someone my age."



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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