When we think back on some of our favorite memories as a child, many of us envision days spent riding bikes, playing pick-up games of ball or hide-and-seek with the neighbor kids, building forts, camping in the backyard, and more. Typically, we occupied our hours by hanging out playing with our friends. Today, our sons and daughters still enjoy those timeless activities, but there is one stark difference between our childhoods and theirs: the role technology is playing in their daily lives.
Today, more than ever, our kids are digitally connected at rates that weren’t even comprehensible 20 years ago. We are raising the first digital natives, a generation that can’t remember a time before the Internet, smartphones, or wireless technology. While our technology and devices can be wonderful tools to help us connect with a world of knowledge and each other, we need to be aware of the ways technology might be keeping our kids from exploring nature and the outside world.
The Danger of Too Much Technology
Along with the undeniable perks of today’s technology, we are starting to notice some drawbacks that come with owning devices. In fact, teens are spending a daily average of 9 hours consuming media in one form or another. Yes, this number includes watching television or doing homework, but a majority of their time is occupied by scrolling social media, streaming, or playing video games.
That number is so alarming that even childhood development experts and medical professionals, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, are beginning to recommend limiting the amount of time children and teens spend in front of a screen. In addition to cyberbullying, online predators, identity theft, and sexting pitfalls associated with technology, consider the following potential dangers our devices might be posing:
- Documented increased levels of anxiety, depression, and lower self-esteem occur with social media overuse.
- Poor posture and a lack of ergonomics can cause joint and neck pain.
- The fast paced stimuli devices provide can alter brain development.
- Glowing screens and interruptions from devices can disrupt sleep patterns.
- Devices can limit face-to-face interactions which can interfere with a child’s speech, bonding, and communication skills.
- Studies have found children feel slighted and unimportant when parents engage on their phones or devices at times when they should be interacting with the child- such as, school events, family dinners, or games.
Nature Calls: The Benefits of the Great Outdoors
Granted, technology does have a place and time in our children’s lives. However, we need to step back and look at the benefits nature provides that our kids might be missing out on when they are plugged in all the time. Listed below is a small sampling of the emotional and physical benefits nature provides kids:
- Outdoor play gives kids opportunities to develop their observation and creativity skills which, in turn, leads to higher levels of learning readiness and scores on tests.
- Being outdoors can boost a child’s immune system through exposure to good germs and bacteria living in the dirt and ecosystem. Also, we can’t forget about gaining healthy doses of Vitamin D from sunlight.
- Exposure to green spaces in several studies has been shown to reduce the symptoms of ADHD in kids.
- Being exposed to sunlight can set our natural biorhythms and can help develop healthy sleep schedules.
- Increasing physical activity can lower the probability kids will experience obesity, hypertension, or heart disease as they age.
Ways to Disconnect Technology and Head Outside
We know that too much technology can be detrimental to our kids, but a primary reason they are staying inside is due to their devices and the comfort of home. While we can admit our tech isn’t going to leave us anytime soon, we can challenge ourselves to reduce the negative impacts our devices have on our children. With a few mindful choices we can strive to balance technology and nature by providing plenty of chances for kids to get outdoors
To help kids put down technology and head back outdoors, please consider the following tips:
- Let kids earn time for technology by rewarding them for every hour spent outside.
- Aim to spend one hour daily outside as a family. Try a game of catch, garden, or take a walk together.
- Designate zones in the home that are technology-free. We like keeping electronics away from family dinners and out of bedrooms.
- Embrace a technology “curfew” every night where all electronics are powered down at a designated time.
- Find free or low-cost community events to attend as a family.
What are your thoughts on technology vs. nature? How do you get kids to unplug and enjoy outdoor activities?
All photos from Shuterstock
Guest Author Bio
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety.