The world around us is changing, and nowhere is that more apparent than in how children interact with the world around them. Whereas older generations spent a great deal of time outdoors, this has changed over the decades, particularly with kids who are under 16 years old. With the whole world at the fingertips through smart devices, nature does not hold the same appeal it once did.
By the time teenagers in the United States reach 16 years of age, they are spending less than seven hours a week outdoors. This is significantly less than children who are of preschool age, as they spend about 12 hours each week outside, between recess and time before and after school. The time declines rapidly as kids age.
Does this time really matter for kids in the long run? According to parents polled in the survey, this lack of outdoor time is a serious issue. Eighty-two percent of parents in the United States view spending time in the natural world as very important, which is second only to reading as a priority. Furthermore, 83 percent of those parents believe time outdoors leads to improvement in school.
“Most parents in each of the markets we surveyed say that they would like their children to spend more time outdoors than they currently do,” says Stephanie Wear, a scientist for the Nature Conservancy. “This is really encouraging because it tells us that to parents, nature is not just ‘something to do’ but a crucial part of childhood.”
How can parents encourage their children to spend time outside?
If parents are concerned that their kids are spending too much time staring at a screen and not enough time playing outdoors, there are a number of things they can do to help break those habits:
- Parents should play with their kids, and not leave them to their own devices. Children will be much more engaged and willing to be outside if they are kept entertained.
- Choosing activities that are not seen as conventional is a great way for kids to fall in love with nature. A long bike ride or hike will make them feel accomplished.
- Be sure to invite friends or the neighbors over. Kids want to spend time with others their own age, so setting up play dates will make the outdoors much more appealing.
- Creating a child-friendly backyard will also give kids a space where they can spend time outdoors. A jungle gym or swing set will ensure they hang out in the backyard.
Any one of these steps will help parents keep their kids outdoors as long as possible. Not only will this improve their health, it will also ensure children develop hobbies unrelated to their electronics.
What are the benefits for kids who play and spend time outside?
Outdoor play increases fitness levels in children, which will allow them to build healthier bodies as they get older. One in three kids in the United States are obese, so any time spent outside will instill crucial habits that can end up preventing diabetes, heart disease and other physical problems down the road. Raised levels of Vitamin D will also protect children from future bone issues.
Being outside will improve a child’s distance vision, which will help to prevent nearsightedness and other vision impairments as their eyes age. Exposure to natural settings have also been known to reduce ADHD symptoms in children. Schools that offer environmental education see students with higher average scores in standardized tests, as well as improved critical thinking abilities.
Talking with children, especially those who are younger, is an important first step to ensure they remain as safe as possible while plugged into the digital world. Open communication is crucial, as is balancing the time spent inside and outside.