Time in nature and outdoor play has a multitude of benefits for children. Connecting to nature is a vital part of physical, mental, and emotional development. However, as our society has changed with urbanization and widespread use of technology, outdoor adventures are increasingly disappearing from children’s lives.
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This trend is especially worrisome since the outdoors have played a pivotal role in nearly all of human history. It facilitated the interaction between humans and the natural world and nature-inspired interactions between ourselves. Children’s activities with other children are increasingly facilitated through online mediums, often leading to anti-social behavior, anxiety, and even depression from a lack of human contact and dramatically lowered connection to nature.
|Related reading: "Teens and Screens: Does Your Child Have a Screen Addition?"|
Are Children Being Deprived of Nature?
In the last 15 years, technology has played an increasing role in everyday life and the lives of children. Kids are surrounded by technology and screens as they grow up, and although many parents are aware of the adverse effects, devices have become central to everyday life.
Smartphones are a vital form of communication and perform many daily tasks. While at home and school, children are encouraged to use computers and other devices to aid their learning. Although technology is helpful in child education, kids are surrounded by screens and devices, which has distanced them from nature and outdoor play.
Changes in Society Contributing to Nature Deprivation
Increases in technology use paired with societal changes have limited children’s interaction with nature. As urbanization increased and more kids grow up in densely populated cities, their connection to nature and wildlife becomes limited. Parks stand out as isolated islands in a sea of concrete.
Reduced greenspaces accompanied by parents increased workload allow little leisure time to enjoy nature. Many families require two parents to work full-time, which makes it even more challenging to enjoy the outdoors with their kids as much as they would like. In addition, the increased perception of risk from ‘stranger danger’ means that kids are not allowed to roam freely like they once did.
Nature-Deficit Disorder Is an Actual Thing!
These decreases in a child’s experiences with their outdoor environment have caused what Richard Louv coins a Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Although the disorder is not an official mental disorder, the relationship between outdoor play and child development has become an increasingly significant issue. Building on personal experience and extensive research, Louv asserts that today’s children are deprived of contact with nature, which has a devastating effect on their well-being.
Consequences of Reduced Nature and Outdoor Play
Louv states that the lack of exposure to nature in children is causing diminishing sensory use, poor attention spans, increases in obesity, and heightened rates of physical and mental illness. However, despite these negative consequences, Louv believes these symptoms can be reversed.
Greenspaces have been shown to benefit social behavior, provide stress relief, and allow for free play and autonomy, which are vital to a child’s development. Along with these benefits, experts suggest that the time children spend outdoors reduces anger and heightens the immune system.
Get Your Children and Families Outside!
Reducing the time spent on devices and increasing outside time is extremely beneficial to your child’s development. Scheduling holidays around outdoor activities, unstructured play in parks, and going for daily walks or hikes are great ways to get outside. Enrolling kids in outdoor sports is also a helpful solution to get them off digital screens and develop social skills.
Backyards are perfect spaces for children to safely explore the outdoors and they can be adapted with an array of outdoor play equipment. Investing in backyard monkey bars, swing sets, trampolines, or even providing a kid’s bike are perfect ways to compensate for increased screen time. This outdoor equipment can be tailored to different ages and abilities so that kids maintain engagement as they grow. Also, get your children involved in gardening and outside chores.
Bring the Outdoors Inside
Being outside is not always possible with busy schedules, bad weather, and lack of outdoor space, so it’s essential to bring the benefits of nature inside too. This integration can be as simple as introducing indoor plants and terrariums, nature items, like pinecones or natural art. And of course, don't forget how integral pets are in the home. Studies show emotional benefits to children’s self-esteem with pet ownership. Also, Indoor DIY sensory play activities are also great ways to incorporate multi-sensory play into a child’s routine.
We are only beginning to understand the effects of increased tech use in our children’s daily lives combined with societal shifts. Therefore, it’s vital as parents to be proactive and intentional in scheduling activities as a family. To combat issues that can arise when deprived of nature, investing in beautiful landscaping at your home with outdoor play equipment and family vacations in nature, offer great ways to get kids outside and active—away from screens!
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