By Kelsey Weber, LSW, March 20, 2018 –
“Dinner’s ready, it’s time to come in.” “But Mom, just five more minutes!”
Do you remember playing outside until dark, hearing your parents call for you to come home and not wanting to go inside?
Fast forward 20 years. Does it seem as though your child is always inside watching TV, playing video games or accessing social media on their phone?
In the last two decades, childhood outdoor play has decreased while indoor play has increased. This has taken a toll mentally and physically on today’s youth.
Spending less time outdoors has contributed to a rise in childhood obesity and the decline of creativity, concentration and social skills.
The National Wildlife Federation states the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day and more than seven hours each day in front of a screen, compared to three hours a day in 1995. In our expanding world of technology, it is extremely difficult for children to get away from electronics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents monitor screen time for children ages 1-18 and never allow it to replace healthy activities – particularly sleep, social interaction and physical activity.
Too much screen time affects children in the following ways:
- Children who consistently spend more than four hours per day on a screen are more likely to be overweight.
- Children who watch violent TV shows or play violent video games are more likely to display aggressive behaviors or fear the world around them.
- Children can be influenced by TV and video game characters that often display risky behaviors such as smoking and drinking.
So, what are the benefits of dropping technology and heading outside?
Evidence demonstrates the many benefits nature has on children’s psychological and physical well-being. Recent studies have shown the necessity of spending time outdoors to reduce stress, increase creativity, and improve physical health and concentration.
Children who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than children who spend more time indoors. Play in nature includes, but is not limited to, these benefits:
- Children build confidence by having less structure than most types of indoor play. Interacting in outdoor enivronments is limitless and allows children to choose how they treat and play in nature.
- Nature promotes creativity and imagination by allowing children to interact meaningfully with their surroundings, which develops free thinking, creation of new activities, and viewing the world in different ways.
- Children learn responsibility by taking care of living things and the environment that surrounds them.
- Nature provides more stimulation than TV or video games due to the activation of more senses by being able to see, hear, smell, and touch the outdoors.
- Nature helps increase physical activity.
- Nature increases children’s ability to focus, which decreases the negative effects associated with ADHD.
- Nature creates a sense of wonder. For example, a child can watch animals interacting and ask questions to learn and understand.
- Nature reduces stress and fatigue. Having wide open spaces enables children to run and play while ignoring distractions, burning energy, and decreasing daily stressors that exhaust their brains.
Although your child may want screen time and it may sometimes be the easier approach, the benefits of nature outweigh any possible benefits of screen time.
So, what can parents do to help get their children off the couch and outside? Parents can take their kids on walks, encourage outdoor games with friends, limit screen time per day, plan regular times for outdoor play, create activities with family members, and much more.
“It’s not so much what children know about nature that’s important, as what happens to them when they are in nature.”- Unknown