The Curious Tale of Adolescent’s Nature Connection

Several studies have now found that there is a ‘teenage dip’ in nature connectedness. In this latest research, expertly led by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, we looked into children’s nature connectedness in more detail. It’s been published in Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology where the full paper can be read. This blog provides a summary.

Disconnected from favourite places?

The survey focussed on one geographical area and surveyed 1872 children between 7 and 18 years old. The survey included a measure of nature connectedness plus a range of other questions to explore the factors that may be related to nature connection. These were things like type of school funding, urban/rural location and access/engagement with nature-based activities, plus wider questions about screen time, favourite places and activities.

As with previous research, the results revealed a ‘teenage dip, in nature connectedness, which was more pronounced in boys than girls. It can be seen this was already in decline at the age of 7. Curiously, despite this dip, the survey found that adolescents’ favourite places were natural spaces. So, although adolescents appreciate nature their emotional attachment and feeling of being part of nature is diminished.

Children’s nature connection by age

There was variation though, those young people who preferred natural places, both in general or for relaxation, had higher levels of nature connectedness. While those selecting home as a favourite place had the lowest.

When asked about barriers to getting out into nature, the most frequent response at 43% was that nothing was preventing them from going outside into nature. The second largest barrier was weather (21%), followed by health (10%), school/work (9%) and safety (5%). Similar to our work with adults on smartphones, we found a strong negative relationship between nature connectedness and self-reported screen time, and this was consistent across all age groups and in both sexes.

Whereas favourite places were natural spaces, favourite activities were not in nature. Sports were the most frequently mentioned activities (56% of people), then arts and crafts (35%), fitness (26%) and games such as computer games (18%). Several nature-based activities together came in below 5% and several of those activities weren’t necessarily related to building or maintaining nature connectedness.

As we know that certain types of activity in nature and engagement with nature are key to nature connectedness, it seems likely that the focus on non-nature activities is important. However, the preference for natural spaces provides a path through to increasing more nature based activities, perhaps combining them with other popular activities such as arts and crafts which are well placed to explore the pathways to nature connectedness.

The survey also found that rural schools provided greater access to nature, particularly at primary level, than their urban equivalents. So, it’s little surprise that children in rural schools had higher levels of nature connectedness than children in urban schools – although this effect was weaker when only secondary level students were considered. We also found that children attending non-fee-paying schools had lower nature connectedness levels than those at fee-paying schools, particularly at primary level.

So, in sum, while children’s favourite places are natural spaces, their favourite activities are not nature focussed and the levels of nature connectedness reflect this. To form a closer relationship with nature and access the benefits for mental health and pro-nature behaviour, there is a need for nature to move from a special place, to a place of engagement with nature – from a passive to an active relationship.


About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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