Sohini Bagchi

Wings of Desire

My son and his friend were playing in the park recently when I heard his friend call out “Eek, there’s a poisonous fly!” My son looking at it replied, “That’s not a fly! It’s a bee – its pretty and harmless.” It was a proud parenting moment. But seeing children playing amidst nature is today a rarity… as our relationship with the natural world has changed.

Are we raising a generation of nature-phobic kids?
Are we raising a generation of nature-phobic kids?

Needless to say, but in an age of cable TV, Nintendos, Facebook and YouTube, it’s obvious that kids are way smarter than the previous generations. But do they catch butterflies, or go on a country walk or visit a farm, or even climb a tree… Like our good old times, how many parents including myself tell them, ‘Go outside and play’?

Kids stay indoors… and that’s a practice. We do not make an effort to expose them to the natural world beyond the screen.

But aren’t modern kids interested in the natural world than ever before? After all, they watch it on TV, visit a nature reserve with their families. But far fewer experience it directly, on their own or with their friends, and that’s what counts: this is more about being with the nature.

Something very profound has happened to children’s relationship with nature over the last two decades, thanks to technology. There’s no time for kicking your heels outdoors. There’s no time called spare time which are spent constructively in after-school activities, coaching and organized sports.

When we [those who are 40 and above] recount our most treasured memories of childhood play, at least a few would be indoors. Fewer still will involve an adult. As a child, I remember being out on my own and with my friends – climbing trees, building dens, collecting birds’ eggs and frogspawn. As things stand, today’s children will be unlikely to treasure memories like that. But the same parent in me don’t even want my kid to get dirty. So, are we raising a generation of nature-phobic kids?

Not that… then? Stranger danger – of course, the fear of child abduction – is another obvious reason; blame it on media or society… Times have changed. It has restricted free or fun play in the natural world, or outdoor.

Even if i write this piece, i may not encourage my child to chase butterflies in the field as I did. For one thing, there are no longer enough butterflies to go round. As a little girl, countryside was more butterfly-friendly, with plenty of wild flowers in the fields. We thought that was normal. Today it survives mainly in nature reserves.

But I’m an optimist. Though most of us do not have our own riverfront land, we can find a nearby park or a trail. Getting outside and breaking the stranglehold of electronics — on ourselves as much as our kids — requires a concerted effort. And yet it’s worth it to make room for nature in our lives, especially as parents. By spending time in nature with our children, we teach them that we value two things – being with them and being with the natural world.

And just as Lord Byron wrote and I believe: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”

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