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Play Again: A Childhood Removed From Nature

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: Play Again, Children and Nature, Cindy Murphy,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgTake a look around. You see it on television “family plan” cell phone commercials or those for the latest video games. It’s evident at any social gathering of teenagers, their fingers flying on their cell phone keypads in a dizzying flurry of texting. It’s even present in elementary and middle schools. There is certainly no lack of evidence that children seem to be living more in the virtual world than in the natural one. There are studies, books and websites devoted to the topic. I blogged last fall about elementary school children’s growing disconnection with nature in “Willow’s Disappearance, Is Nature Outdated?” after learning of the Oxford Jr. Dictionary’s elimination of nature words. I recently went to a community screening of a film that takes it to the next age level.

The film “Play Again” focuses on the disconnection between teenagers and nature, following a group of teens has they leave their virtual world to spend time in a wilderness camp. This award winning documentary is told through the voices of the children as they participate in, what is for some of them, their first real experience in nature. Commentary by leading environmentalists, educators, and sociologists accompanies the sometimes humorous, sometimes emotional responses of the teens after they become “unplugged.” Visually stunning, as well as at times shocking, it’s one of the most moving documentaries I've seen in a long time.

Play Again poster

The statistics are disturbing: Today’s children spend 90% of their time indoors. The average American child spends five to fifteen hours a day behind a screen, whether it’s a computer, television, or cell phone. One generation from now, most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. “Human history seems grounded in defeating natural challenges”, one teen in the film said, “being connected to nature, feeling tied to it in some way, just doesn’t seem essential.” Some of the children interviewed viewed the virtual world as being more real than the natural one.

Kids are constantly bombarded with images on television and computers. Corporations, it seems, are taking over childhood. Some researchers believe there is a direct link between consumerism and environmental collapse. A scene early in the documentary shows young children shouting out “X-Box,” “Target,” and “Nickelodeon” when shown those logos, but stammering and having a difficult time identifying a dandelion.

Meg Merrill, the film’s producer, said the idea for the film came from a similar study in which children tested could recognize hundreds of corporate logos, but less than 10 plants from their own backyards. It was in an ironic twist that following the screening of a film about the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds, we were able to visit with Ms. Merrill via a live web conference. It was pretty neat. It’s no doubt our lives are enriched by technology. Any information we desire is just a click away. We are able to have social encounters on a daily basis with people from places we’ve never even been. The world is virtually at our fingertips. But there has to be a balance between the time spend on-line and in nature, and right now it seems the scales are tipped in favor of technology.

It’s not just teenagers that are plugged in to the virtual world and becoming tuned out to the natural one; all age groups are affected. Interestingly, adults in their late 30s and early 40s spend just as much time behind a screen as does the average teenager. Social networks are used by people aged 35 to 44 more than any other age group; 64% of Twitter users are 35 and older; 61% who use Facebook fall into the same age category, and the average age of a MySpace user is 31. The problem not only impacts our children, it affects our society, and eventually, will affect our planet.

Maybe you don’t think the problem concerns you because you don’t have kids, or your children and grandchildren are grown. Maybe your kids are some of the lucky ones who have an opportunity to experience nature everyday. But think about this next time you see a teenager: the future of the world’s environment is in his hands, and how can he care for it if his hands are too busy texting? Will a child respect nature if she doesn’t experience it? Once they grow up, how will they teach their children to respect the environment if they don’t respect it themselves? Charles Jordan of the Conservation Fund made a statement in the film that struck me as particularly powerful. “What they will not value, they will not protect, and what they will not protect, they will lose.”

It might seem like a bleak diagnosis. “Play Again” does not suggest that the answer is severing our children’s electrical umbilical cords and whisking them away to the wilderness. It can sometimes be a simple thing, liking eating outdoors, that encourages them to notice their natural surroundings. There are as many ways to get kids involved in nature as there are ways they find to entertain themselves in the virtual world. A Boy Scout trip to the farm, a Bring Your Backyard Chickens to School Day (an hour may be more like it), high-school volunteers working in a community garden, taking a Girl Scout troop on a photography hike through the woods, or volunteering to read your grandchild’s class a book on nature in an outdoor setting are all ways fairly easy ways to reconnect children with the natural world.

Yes, it takes some effort to get involved. But what are the consequences if we don’t? What are your ideas? How do you and your children stay connected to nature?

“Play Again” Check out their website to view a trailer of the film or for information on how to arrange a community screening. This is definitely a film worth watching.

cindy murphy
2/24/2011 9:28:56 AM

You're welcome, Shannon. If you have a chance, "Play Again" is definitely one to see, especially since you're a Mom. If there's not a screening scheduled in your area, you can order the documentary on-line from their website. I wish I would have thought to bring Shelby to the screening; I think kids - especially teenagers - would benefit from watching it. The film's producer mentioned they were working on a shorter "classroom " version to show in schools. Thanks for stopping in, and have a great day.


s.m.r. saia
2/23/2011 8:24:19 AM

Wow Cindy, I definitely would like to check that out. As the mother of a soon-to-be five-year-old I find this, like your post about the dictionary, very disturbing. I've always tried very hard to get my daughter outside for at least a little while most days. Most of that time we're together, but on the ocassions when she's outside by herself I'm always gratified when I look out the window and see that more often than not she's on her knees, digging in the dirt. Your post makes me want to be even more vigilant! When I get home from work today that kid's going OUTSIDE!!! Thanks! Shannon


cindy murphy
2/19/2011 10:43:29 AM

Thanks for your comments, Lori. I get the same feelings from nature - it's a soulful experience. The benefits derived from experiencing nature are many, as are the negative consequences from NOT experiencing it, that I feel, go far beyond knowing the name of a common weed.


cindy murphy
2/19/2011 10:25:31 AM

Michelle, nope, Shelby can't text and work at the nursery at the same time. LMHO because I'm sure she has the ability and would if she could, but like during school hours, texting at work isn't acceptable. Your comment about getting her love of gardening from me made me laugh too. Shelbs has no such love; she rolls her eyes even at the mention of me suggesting she help me out at home by pulling weeds. But she's always loved the nursery, feeling it's a beautiful and fun place to be. Her move though, is a tactical one - and I'm actually pretty proud of the maturity she showed making it. She can't get a "real" job - she's both too young and I need her here to babysit her younger sister. Weekends volunteering at the nursery gives her some experience to put on an application when the time comes she's released from her babysitting duties, and volunteering looks good on a resume. I feel it's benefiting her in two ways - she gets some working experience, and she's spending time outside in nature.


lori
2/19/2011 4:26:51 AM

Cindy, I knew things were bad, but I didn't realize to what extent till I read your blog. It is a sad state of affairs when children can't identify a dandelion! I love technology, and believe it's a good thing. I do the Facebook thing, and the Internet is so wonderful to find information. Email allows me to instantly send something important to someone, but there has got to be limits. I can't even imagine not experiencing nature. It is what lifts my spirits and fills my soul! These kids are missing so much by not exploring the outdoors!


michelle house
2/19/2011 12:47:03 AM

Cindy, yeah, I am glad she limits them. That is so nice about your oldest, she cannot text and garden at the same time. lol, or can she? She must get her love of gardening from you. :) You and your family have a wonderful weekend as well. :)


cindy murphy
2/18/2011 7:20:32 AM

Hi, Michelle. Great that your daughter limits their time playing video games; I think it's important. I used to do the same with the girls time on the computer, but not so much now; they don't use it very much anymore. My youngest is like your oldest grandson; she's outside every chance she gets. My oldest - now that's a different story. She used to be a tom-boy and was ALWAYS outside. The teenage years hit, she got a cool new phone this fall, (her old one was "gross"), and has become Queen of the Texts - though we've put restrictions on where and when she's allowed to use her phone. And a kinda cool thing....she's volunteering at the nursery this summer; completely her idea and she arranged it herself with my boss. She says it's one of her favorite places to be, and I'm sure she'll get MORE of her fair share of being outside, (she has no idea the work...and dirt she's got herself into!) Take care, and have a wonderful weekend!


michelle house
2/17/2011 11:03:48 AM

Hi Cindy, lovely article. My daughter limits the amount of time, the grands play video games, be it handheld, or the Wi. In fact, my oldest grandson would rather be outside, all day if he could. lol. Thanks for the wonderful article. Hugs Michelle


cindy murphy
2/17/2011 8:32:32 AM

Hi, Dave. Thanks for stopping in with a comment. I agree that the ease of communication made possible through technology is a wonderful thing; texting your grandkids often, I'd bet, has given you all a closer relationship than the occasional phone call or letter. And look at Egypt - a revolution started through Facebook! How amazing is that? I go back and forth though, between the wonders of technology and its pitfalls. I wish I shared your confidence that younger generations will realize that real life experiences are more engaging than virtual communications. I know that you're right; eventually as they mature they'll realize the value in the warmth of a real smile as opposed to an emoticon, but I wonder what they will have lost in the meantime. Doing a lot of volunteer work getting kids involved in nature and gardening, I have a great desire to get other adults involved in getting children back outside too. Maybe I should have tackled this subject differently. Too late I read Bryan Welch's blog "The Power of Contagious Ideas" (at the bottom of the blog page here). I love for the movement of getting kids reconnected with nature to spread as quickly as Hush Puppy fashion trends and revolutions started on Facebook. Ah well, maybe next time; I'm not done with the subject. Working on a project now with a member of the "Play Again" audience; another blog on the topic will probably appear this summer. Enjoy the day!


nebraska dave
2/16/2011 5:32:13 PM

@Cindy, I agree that kids today have moved into a totally different mode of comunication and relationship with each other. With the advent of digital texting, face to face IPod communication, facebook, and twitter, the knowledge about a person has shifted from private to public. I learn more about what my 26 year old daughter does from facebook than I do from face to face conversations. And so it is with grandkids that without texting I wouldn't have communication with them but instead have communication even through they are 1200 miles away. Texting is all about bottom line conversation. There is no fluff in the comunications. However the emotion is lost. My good friend Georgia calls and says she just wants to hear my voice, my laugh, and my passion about different things encountered in my walk with life issues. I have confidence that this younger generation will see the value of real conversation and real life as they age and mature. Just as my generation invented all the technology their generation will master how to use it to it's best potential. You've done it again with another thought provoking blog about current issues. Your blogs always inspire me to think. Oooow, sometimes that hurts. :o) Have a great outdoors day.