We have a Responsibility to Make our Kids Appreciate Nature

A new study highlights that whether 10-12 years olds have positive or negative attitudes towards nature depends on how much time they spend in direct contact with it, the type of input they get from their parents and grandparents, and how much they learn and know about it.

In an increasingly urbanised world, it is important to understand how lack of direct interaction with nature may affect the future generations’ attitudes towards wildlife. Leaving aside discussions on how being around nature can greatly benefit health and wellbeing, if today’s kids grow up to be disconnected from nature, wildlife conservation could be badly hit in the long term. That is because negative attitudes towards wildlife could lead to a reduced motivation to protect wild animals and their habitats.

Underlying the scientific interest and concern over this issue, there is even a specific term for it: “biophobia”, describing a fear of living things and total alienation from nature.

A team of seven scientists based in Japan recently went out to investigate this issue addressing a simple questionnaire to over 5,000 kids aged between 10-12, at 45 different Japanese schools1. The research group, led by Prof Masashi Soga, adopted a specific focus on 14 species of insects and one species of spider for their questions. The school kids were asked to rank how much they liked or feared the different animals on a scale from 0 to 15. They were also asked to mention how often they visited natural places such as parks in their neighbourhood, their familiarity with and knowledge of invertebrates, and whether their parents and grandparents liked or disliked these tiny animals.

“Of the 5375 study children, 46.2%, 38.1%, 26.9%, and 8.9% reported that more than half of the 15 study invertebrates were dislikeable, disgusting, scary, and dangerous, respectively” the authors report.

In line with their expectations, they found that the kids that spent less time in contact with nature were the ones with the most negatives attitudes towards the invertebrates. In contrast, kids that were most knowledgeable or familiar with them were also most comfortable around them and actually tended to appreciate them.

The kids’ responses also matched the views of their families. This is an aspect that the authors find particularly worrying, since this could create a “feedback loop in which an increase in people who have negative attitudes towards nature in one generation will lead to a further increase in people with similar attitudes in the next generation”, a “cycle of disaffection towards nature” they call it.

The study also points to gender differences in the kids’ responses, with male children less likely to demonstrate dislike, disgust, fear or perceive danger of invertebrates than females. The researchers suggest that this may be because boys “are more likely to face social pressures to not be scared of animals, which may, in turn, prevent them from showing negative responses”.

Lastly, as expected, the more urbanised the areas surrounding a school was, the more the school pupils were likely to have negative attitudes towards the invertebrates.

These findings could be troubling as kids often carry their attitudes into adulthood, and it will ultimately be today’s generations to inform the conservation policies of the future. “Mitigating against increasing biophobia in children […] is crucial for better conservation outcomes in the future” stress the authors.

To reduce kids’ biophobia, it is important that school programmes promote activities that involve kids directly with nature, and through which they can also learn first-hand about it. Transmitting our passion for and interest in nature to the new generations is fundamental for biodiversity conservation, which is in turn crucial to safeguard the very kids’ health and wellbeing.

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  1. Soga, M., Evans, M.J., Yamanoi, T., Fukano, Y., Tsuchiya, K., Koyanagi, T.F. and Kanai, T., 2020. How can we mitigate against increasing biophobia among children during the extinction of experience?. Biological conservation242, p.108420. https://doi.org/10.1080/23748834.2020.1742491

Cover image credits: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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