Kids (and adults too) need connection more than ever, and I believe the strongest connections can’t be found on a screen or an app — they’re outside. It’s time to ditch the screens and get outside!
Being outside helps kids develop a healthy sense of perspective about their impact on other humans, their impact on the environment, and their place in the world. As someone who helps to build this kind of healthy experience for kids every day, we’ve only seen more benefits during the pandemic from time outside, seeing with our own eyes how this has helped campers disconnect from stress and reconnect through life-affirming shared experiences in the outdoors.
When participating in outdoor activities with groups, we are able to more easily connect with others by facing the same or similar obstacles together. Something we just can’t get from scrolling, in an online classroom or gaming with our friends. Outside, we get to see others experience a challenge the way we might experience a challenge. We get to see someone set and accomplish a goal the way we have or will. We are brought together by common and simple experiences and I believe that these moments invite us to let down our guard little by little and start to see that we are more alike (and less alone) than we sometimes believe.
And we need it more than ever.
A recent study shows that more physical activity and less screen time led to better mental health for kids, but unfortunately we’re on a trend taking us in the opposite direction. The study by the JAMA Network, shows screen time for kids, ages 10 to 14, has doubled during the pandemic — skyrocketing from an average of 3.8 hours per day before the pandemic to a current 7.7 hours per day.
The study’s authors note that “Excessive screen use in adolescents has been associated with physical and mental health risks… The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home mandates, online learning, and social distancing requirements have led to an increasing reliance on digital media (ie, screens) for nearly all facets of adolescents’ lives (eg, entertainment, socialization, education).”
And it’s also impacting physical health. According to the State of Childhood Obesity, the national rate of obesity among kids ages 2 to 19 increased to 22.4% in 2020, up from 19.3% in 2019 — costing $14 billion annually in direct health expenses. Think about it, if you’re on a screen you’re not likely running around, playing with friends or interacting with your loved ones.
It’s understandable that in trying to stay safe, many of us, including our children, have turned inward (and at times the isolating was necessary) but I’d make the case for rethinking our “safe spaces” and begin working to cultivate “brave spaces” — spaces that are open, honest and intentional. And yes, these brave spaces outdoors come with some risk, but with the numbers I just laid out above, I’d wager it’s riskier to keep our grip on those screens.
As one of our Avid4 Adventure team managers shared recently, “COVID has forced kids to grow up very quickly. They now understand the big, scary, real-world consequences of a global pandemic, which is a heavy emotional load for a child to carry.”
Let’s give our kids the freedom to play, to run wild outside, and to tap into the joy that can’t be found online. It’s time to ditch the screens and get outside.
- Embrace the “yes, and…” philosophy when your kids ask questions about activities outside. In our culture, we have the tendency to say no – first and quickly. Instead, say yes first, and then jointly with your child figure out the parameters to make the request work.
- The outside is good for you also! Help your child by helping yourself – remember to close your laptop, leave your phone inside, and do out and play WITH your child(ren).
Guest Author, Paul Dreyer
About our Guest Author
Born in South Africa, Paul moved to the United States as a small child, and has continued to seek out travel, adventure, and education ever since. He have worked in and around the worlds of experiential education, leadership development, and group psychology for over eighteen years.