May Day can mean a call for help, like an SOS! It is also a springtime celebration of new life! In this inaugural story, Light Feather is concerned why children are not coming outside as much to play. You should be too! Finding a balance between time spent outside playing in nature versus online is the key.
The following article raises concerns about children sitting on couches in front of a computer versus playing outside. It is so extreme the condition has been named 'nature deficit disorder. It cites the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen!
The main points for - Why go outside?
"Recent studies have exposed the benefit—even necessity—of spending time outdoors, both for kids and adults. Most of the studies agree that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. While it’s unclear how exactly the cognitive functioning and mood improvements occur, there are a few things we do know about why nature is good for kids’ minds.
· It builds confidence. The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking trail or lake, and letting your child choose how he treats nature means he has the power to control his own actions.
· It promotes creativity and imagination. This unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
· It teaches responsibility. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.
· It provides different stimulation. Nature may seem less stimulating than your son’s violent video game, but in reality, it activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments. “As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow,” Louv warns, “and this reduces the richness of human experience.”
· It gets kids moving. Most ways of interacting with nature involve more exercise than sitting on the couch. Your kid doesn’t have to be joining the local soccer team or riding a bike through the park—even a walk will get her blood pumping. Not only is exercise good for kids’ bodies, but it seems to make them more focused, which is especially beneficial for kids with ADHD.
· It makes them think. Louv says that nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide. The phenomena that occur naturally in backyards and parks everyday make kids ask questions about the earth and the life that it supports.
· It reduces stress and fatigue. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.
So while screen time is the easier, more popular choice, it’s important to set aside time for outdoor play. For fun, stimulating activities you and your kids can do in nature, see Ideas for Getting Your Kids into Nature."
Additionally, recent findings show there are a growing number of children afraid of going out in nature. It is called biophobia. The best way to overcome this is to be exposed to nature by reintroducing children to the wonders found right outside their back doors! After direct contact with nature, most children turn biophobia into biophilia, a love of nature. This article is a must read for parents and teachers concerned about the loss of natural spaces and the disappearance of species in our world.
The rise of electronic tablets, smartphones, and computers for children is a major deterrent for not going outside. The addictive quality of video games has been proven, leading to unwanted long-term outcomes, including a replacement of face-to-face contact and social interaction.
Here is an article with recent statistics for a number of areas of concern along with suggested alternatives:
The following excerpts are from the above article:
The British Psychological Society warns that “Too much screen time for young children can unintentionally cause permanent damage to their still-developing brains. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary - all those abilities are harmed.”
The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that American children spend a whopping seven hours a day in front of electronic media.
In his lecture ‘Managing Screen Time and Screen Dependency’ Dr Aric Sigman argues that “whether it’s Facebook, the internet or computer games, screen time is no longer merely a cultural issue about how children spend their leisure time, nor is it confined to concern over the educational value or inappropriate content – it’s a medical issue”.
Addiction dangers of too much screen time early in life.
“Early screen viewing is likely to lead to long periods of viewing for the rest of your life," says Sigman. "The way you view screens when you are young forms the habits you pick up for ever after it seems.” An early taste for entertainment screen media can lead to changes in the brain that stay with you for life – a life that may be shorter as a result.
Like other addictions screen time creates significant changes in brain chemistry – most notably, in the release of dopamine.
"There are concerns among neuroscientists that this dopamine being produced every single day for many years – through for example playing computer games – may change the reward circuitry in a child's brain and make them more dependent on-screen media," warns Sigman.
On the perils of too much screen time Sigman has investigated the extent to which time online may be displacing face-to-face contact, and that lack of social connection is associated with physiological changes, increased incidence of illness and higher premature mortality.
Dangers of childhood computer gaming.
Think about the type of games children are getting addicted to playing. The narrative of a game is an important factor, as some – Grand Theft Auto being the obvious example – clearly lead to a lack of impulse control, and potential neuro-chemical changes in the release of dopamine.
Screen time effects on educational development.
Children’s cognitive development is two years down on what it was 30 years ago because children have lost both concrete and abstract thinking.
“Until we know better, I advise precaution,” says Sigman. “Keep technology and screens away from the under threes, and set limits on all ages after that.”
A study conducted in 2017 by the Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta found that 75% of teachers surveyed say students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased.
Tablets before bedtime cause sleep disruption.
Sleep will also be affected by what is known as “Blue Light” that these tech products emit. “Brains are being stimulated before bedtime in the way that books don’t do. Exciting games just before bedtime is not a good idea. Electronic devices should be switched off at least an hour before bedtime,” the expert warns.
So how much screen time for children?
The simple answer: not much. None for children under two. That’s right. The experts suggest that babies and toddlers are kept away from all screens. Sorry CBeebies. Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day, and children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours a day. That's a tough call for teenagers, especially with homework often requiring computer time. But remember that the real danger is non-educational, leisure screen time, so you may wish to discount homework screen time. Parents should be able to decide if these strictures are too harsh, and allow some screen time flexibility, but not caring at all about the amount of time your children spend in front of screens is dangerous. Technology is a tool for learning, not the end in its own right.
Alternatives to screen time.
Screen time is usually sedentary so getting the child up and moving is by far the healthier option. The latest scientific research actually suggests that screen-time sitting is worse for one’s health than standard sitting because of the over-stimulation that screen time induces in the user. Hours of sedentary behavior is linked not only to obesity, but other health problems such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. While you’re thinking of how much time your kid is sitting down in front of a screen, do yourself a favor and have a walk about yourself.
Suggesting going for a walk isn't going to cut it, so make the activity fun: tree climbing, hide-and-seek in a wood, or camping.
Social activity. Don’t fool yourself that being on Facebook all day is social. It’s vital that kids get out and interact with other children in real life and not in phony virtual worlds.
It might not feel like it sometimes but children are very good at working out ways of filling their time when they have to, and finding out some stimulating hobbies – art, craft, fishing, sports, Lego, kites, collecting, bird watching, astronomy, cooking, museums, photography, music, gardening, etc – shouldn’t be too difficult.
Do the chores.
You're kidding, right? But kids should help out round the house, tidy up after themselves, learn some basic cooking, lay the table, empty the dishwasher, hang out the clothes... It might be boring but it does create a break from the screen."
Light Feather's May Day call for help is one she hopes you will heed as the articles show clearly the many benefits of outdoor play!