Environments have a way of increasing or reducing people’s stress. An unpleasant environment can cause a person to feel helpless, sad, or anxious, which in turn causes muscle tension and an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. A pleasing environment reverses that effect. Nature has a way of increasing pleasant feelings and reducing stress, fear, and anger. A growing body of research has also pointed to the benefits of being exposed to the natural world. For instance, we now know it takes 120 minutes of nature immersion for a person to have a strong sense of well-being.
What connectedness to nature means
A new study from the Sonora Institute of Technology (ITSON) has revealed that children are happier when they are connected to nature. The team referred to connectedness to nature not only as appreciating the beauty of nature but being aware of the dependence and interrelation between nature and ourselves. This means “appreciating all of the nuances of nature and feeling a part of it.”
For their study, 296 (175 girls and 121 boys) children from the northwestern Mexican city were recruited. Participants’ ages ranged from 9 to 12 years old, 35.8% of them were 11 years old, 26.0% were 10 years old, 23.3% were 9 years old, and 14.9% were 12 years old. To measure their connectedness to nature, they were given self-administered care. The study also measured the children’s happiness and sustainable behaviors, which included equity, altruism, frugality, and pro-ecological behavior. The team likewise measured the participants’ agreement with statements, such as “humans are a part of the natural world” to measure their connectedness to nature.
The group measured the children’s agreement with statements that would measure their sustainable behaviors, such as “I separate empty bottles to recycle.” They were also asked if they give away used clothing, help those who are hurt or who fall, give money to the Red Cross, among others. The response scale used was 1 for strongly disagree and 5 for strongly agree. These instruments were conducted in the participants’ classrooms with approval from the parents, teachers, and principals. The authors also explained to the kids the purpose of their investigation and that their participation would be voluntary.
Kids who felt more connected to nature were found to have positive associations for sustainability behaviors and practices and they also reported a high level of perceived happiness. The group’s research appeared in the medical platform Medical Xpress. Previous studies on adults likewise suggested the link between the development of pro-environmental behaviors in adults and connectedness to nature.
The team pointed out that children are important agents in helping mitigate environmental problems. Their relationship and actions with nature will lay the opportunity to help solve environmental issues.
Co-author Laura Fernanda Barrera-Hernández, who is also a professor at the Instituto Tecnológico de Sonora (ITSON), said that teachers and parents should promote kids to have more significant exposure and contact to nature, because these are linked with their happiness. The group also emphasized that if society wants to develop environmental concern and care for younger generations, then it is a must to enable and encourage these kids to be more exposed to nature.
Kids as nature’s future caretakers
They said that they focused their study on kids because they will be the “future caretakers of the natural places.” On the other hand, nature deficit disorder or children’s disconnection to nature may also contribute to the destruction of the environment because of the lack of bond with nature, which will result in a lack of desire to protect it.
Limitations of the study
There were limitations mentioned in the study, such as the number of participants, the fact that the kids live in the same city, and their age. It may mean that the sample is only a representative of young people in Mexico. However, the team believes that their findings can be used to advance knowledge about children’s positive psychology of sustainability.
Exposure to outdoor nature
Preschoolers are advised to have at least 90 to 120 minutes per day of physical activity to help decrease the risk of obesity, enhance creativity, increase academic abilities, and increase their emotional stability. Sadly, kids 8 to 12 years old spend as much as 6 hours every day on some electronics, such as computer screens, TV, video games, and smartphones. This only means that although spending time outdoors is beneficial for both kids and adults, people are not doing it enough.
Global health observatory
According to the World Health Organization, 12.6 million people have died as a result of working or living in an unhealthy environment, which represents nearly 23% of all deaths worldwide. Up to 26% of all deaths of children below five years old could be prevented if the environmental risks were removed.
The specialized agency concerned with world public health added that more than 1 in 4 deaths of kids below 5 years old are linked to unhealthy environments. WHO considers lack of sanitation, unsafe water, second-hand smoke, inadequate hygiene, and outdoor and indoor air pollution as environmental risks that cause the death of 1.7 million kids below 5 years old a year.
WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said that a polluted environment is deadly, particularly for kids because their immune systems, smaller airways and bodies, and developing organs make then vulnerable to dirty water and air.
Switzerland’s Sustainability Management School (SUMAS) has also put together sustainability statistics about plastic pollution, waste, water, emissions, built environment, and energy. It highlights that 3.6 billion of the world population now live in potentially water-stress areas. The world’s cities generated about 2.01 billion tones of solid waste in 2016. This amounts to 0.74 kilograms of carbon footprint per person every day. Globally, 400 million tons of plastics are produced every year but only 9% are recycled. The final consumption of air-conditioning, steam, gas, and electricity in 2016 had the biggest carbon footprint in the EU. Due to emissions, nine out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air.
Our planet is in trouble and it should be everyone’s concern. Raising awareness for our society and considering the role that children play in protecting our environment is important. Helping them develop sustainable behaviors will even make them happier because they would then tend to perform pro-environmental behaviors.