Children are losing their imaginations to computers, “Nature Deprived Syndrome”

I have spent the last half hour sitting on my deck steeping myself in the wonders of Spring. “At Last”, a song made famous by Etta James, should be played on the New England airwaves hourly. I have waited, as I’m sure many others have who live in this neck of the woods, for the snow, ice, and bitter cold to finally give us a respite. I was beginning to think I should build an Igloo. It has been an unusually long and tough winter.

This time of year is especially exciting for me because I love my garden, and all it has to offer. As each new plant inches its way out of its’ winter hibernation, I feel a sense of awe and delight. This is not a new feeling, as I have felt this way since I was a child. The outdoors always was magical for me and a great deal of my playmates. We would spend hours trekking through lots seeking hidden treasures and building forts out of old lumber, branches and twigs. Our greatest moments were sitting, huddled inside our fort telling scary stories or pretending that we were part of a medieval kingdom. I always wanted to be the queen, but more than not I was relegated to being a Lady in Waiting or a Knight, which was fine with me. If I was the Lady in Waiting I would wrap myself in my mothers’ old lace curtains and weave some flowers for a headdress. As a Knight I fashioned a bow and arrow out of twigs and put my grandmothers’ colander on my head. I believe that probably was the origins of the career I have today. The ability to simply use my innate creativity and have so much fun doing it was like taking a class in improvisation.

I feel badly for children today since I don’t think many of them are going to have these types of experiences. I hardly ever see kids playing outside anymore. The American Pediatric Society has said that children are starting to lose their ability to imagine in lieu of all the computer games that do it for them. They have even coined a new disorder “Nature Deprived Syndrome” since so many kids don’t get to immerse themselves in the joys that the outdoors can offer them. They also see this as one of the reasons there are so many obese children. DUH! Parents have been given so many fear messages by the media about so many things, that going outside has become something to be feared.  I know there are still parents who have instilled a love of nature in their children, but for those who haven’t, please give your kids the opportunity to enjoy and respect what is possibly the greatest gift we’ve been given.

9 Replies to “Children are losing their imaginations to computers, “Nature Deprived Syndrome””

  1. Children do still “play”. You just do not see them because they are “playing” within the confines of their scheduled “play dates”. You personally still see playing as a spontaneous expression of imagination, but parents now see it as a structured exercise to be conducted, with a chosen group of parent selected participants on Tuesdays and Thursday from 3 to 4:15 PM.

    In your day, kids would find an empty sandlot and have a pick up game of baseball. Child experts today have told parents that is not healthy for children because their child might not be able to participate because they might not get picked for someones team and that would be permanently injurious to their self-esteem. So, today soccer moms bring their kids to organized soccer practice where everyone plays and no one keeps score and everybody gets a trophy.

    In your day great professional baseball players came from the sandlots and today America hasn’t a single world class soccer player no matter how many soccer moms are out there running kids around. I think there might be a connection.

    As for computers, there you step into another mine field.

    Kids still play at being knights and ladies in waiting. They go on-line to some fantasy role playing site and create a world where again they can be the “special child” that their parents have told them they are. There is no real competition, they can always be kings and queens and never have to be the peasant that mucks out the stables. But, by the time they grow up and are no longer “special children” the closest they come to royalty is working the fryolater at Burger King. They were never “losers” as children so they had no idea that when they grew up they would have to work at being winners.

    Mommy arranged all their “play dates” and now they have no idea how to arrange a “work date”.

  2. Back up a minute! We are missing an obvious question here.

    Why did you spend the last half hour sitting on my deck steeping myself in the wonders of spring, thinking about children “playing”?

    Why weren’t YOU out playing?

    YOU could have gone down to Benny’s and bought a kite and a ball of string and walked down Nelson Street to the beach and “played”.

    You could have picked up a pail and shovel too and built an igloo instead of just thinking about it.

    Did you lose your ability to imagine or did you lose your ability to be a child?

    Did you just sit on the deck because you had nobody to play with at that moment? We could set up a play date, but I don’t think Nona ever set up play dates for you. She probably told you to get out of the house and find somebody to play with.

    And when you go out to play…leave the cell phone at home. The truth is that unless you are waiting for a kidney or are carrying the missile launch codes you can get along without it for a few hours.

    I would wager that if you were to go into a pediatrician’s office you would find all the adults sitting in their chairs there talking and texting on their cell phones, while the children are playing together on the floor.

    The children are socializing and having new experiences with new people and the adults are totally oblivious to everything and everyone around them.

    Going from sitting in the tree house to the sitting on the deck may be a move from childhood to adulthood, but you left your imagination in the trees. And it was easier to come down out of the trees to play than it is to get off the deck to play.

    Maybe that is the whole problem with human existence. Coming down out of the trees was probably a bad idea. Maybe even the trees were a bad idea and we should never have left the sea. At least then you would have been closer to the beach and you could have built your igloo in the sand.

  3. Forgive me for a follow up question, but of all the things you could have been thinking of building…why an IGLOO?

    I think it is an interesting “symbol” and might lead you to telling a very interesting story.

  4. Before moving on, I have to tell you one final thing and perhaps it says something about what awaits us when we seize upon our child inside and seize the opportunity to just go out and play.

    I originally stopped by your website in order to try to see if I could get you to book Linda Blair as a speaker to come and talk about the WorldHeart Foundation and rescuing abused and abandoned animals. Then I sort of wandered into the blog site.
    I have had a very interesting experience being here and gotten to view things from a unique perspective that has been very revealing to me personally.

    For most people when you use the word “igloo” they think of the typical Eskimo dwelling built out of ice. However, if you Google “U.S. Army and igloo” you will see a picture of an earthen storage structure.

    When I was in the army I was at a base that had thousands of these “igloos” and to the army they are kind of like grandma’s attic. “Igloos” might contain anything from nuclear bombs to World War II Hershey bars and you never knew what you might find “grandma” had hidden away.

    So for me personally, the word “igloo” conjures up the image of the big toy box that is my life and opening it reveals things I long ago put away and I had forgotten how much fun they were to play with.

    So, for whatever reason you wanted to build an “igloo”, it had special meaning to me and it gave me chance to go up and play in grandma’s attack again.

    There is no telling who you will find to play with if you just get up and go outside.

    Thanks for the play date.

  5. Thank you for highlighting this problem Loretta. As a professional storyteller I work in schools and libraries, telling, not reading, stories to children. The younger children easily step into the world of “Once upon a time…” but the older children will initially resist the opportunity to use their imaginations.

    The book Story Proof, published by Kendall Haven offers scientific research into the power of the imagination and how we are all hardwired for story. Kendall was kind enough to allow me to list some of his research on my site on the Teacher’s Page at if you are interested in viewing some of the research.

    Thank you for your wonderful work. Whenever you are in New Bedford,MA I always go to see you at the Zeiterion. It is time well spent and I always come away feeling refreshed and de-stressed!

    Warmest regards,

  6. Another book supporting the thesis that we humans depend on imagination – and its branches, play, art, fiction, and storytelling – is “On the Origin of Stories” by Brian Boyd.

    It maintains that storytelling, etc., is vital to the survival of our species because it gives us a way to practice, in our imaginations, social and other situations that could be detrimental if not handled well. And pre-imagining them, along with the consequences of various responses on our part, is a key way to make it more likely that we’ll succeed.

  7. If you’re over fifty, at least, you’ll share almost the same comments here. Yes, for the younger lot – that was then, this is now. Perhaps the greatest sin is accepting what you don’t really have to accept. Yes, you can “get a life” but you have to want to first.

    So, medicine has named the problem. What are they doing about it? This syndrome isn’t just the fault of computers and video games. Organized sports has taken away more than it has given. I think most kids are signed up for organized to satisfy their parent’s needs, which run from faded glory to whatever. The old pickup games on the street or in vacant lots didn’t offer uniforms and everything short of being in the pro leagues but it did allow children to learn how to organize, how to get along and how to use their imaginations.

    Recess it seems, is something else from another era. We’ve pretty much over-scheduled our children with activities they’re not all that interested in. Most of these activities are really about hiring professional parents. The real parents are stressed delivering and picking up their kids from one place to another. All of this is for? The kids don’t eat right because it’s chew and dash to the next lesson or whatever and the family rarely eats together at the table.

    Kids have their own TV, PC’s and game consoles. Oh, let’s not forget their own phones, too. The same people who want to give their children everything are really denying them fresh air, good food and freedom to be a kid!

    You’ve opened a vein on this topic for me. Thanks for being who you are Loretta. I knew you were on the ball the first time I saw you speak. One suggestion; you need rent a train and launch a “Common Sense Tour” that goes across the country. Let’s see who jumps on board. If you have too many empty cars well, you get the picture. There’s so much more to go on about but I’ll stop here.

    PS – Thanks to Karen Chace for posting this link on FB

I always encourage feedback. Love to hear your thoughts!

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