Today’s blog post comes from guest writer, Hilary Smith. You can read her bio at the end of the article.
Can you remember the feeling of crawling into bed completely exhausted from a long day spent playing outside as a child?
Quite a few of us can recall those days and evenings that were spent riding bicycles, playing “kick the can” with neighborhood kids, or chasing flickering lightning bugs into the twilight. We knew it was time to head in when the street lights popped on or our mother’s voice called to us. Looking back, it’s easy to reflect on the days of childhood and reminisce about the “good old days” which appear today to be in stark contrast with our own children’s upbringing.
Now, many of our sons and daughters don’t get to enjoy the free range approach we were granted in the past and technology has drastically changed the way our kids interact with each other. According to the National Wildlife Federation, today’s youngsters spend half the amount of time outdoors as children did 20 years ago. So what has changed?
Indoor Technology vs. Outdoor Play
There are many theories regarding why children spend more time inside, but a lot of speculation focuses on the prevalence of new technologies. Nintendos and Ataris of yesteryear have been conveniently replaced with cell phones, computers, and social media. This easy access to tech may be inadvertently causing our youth to spend a daily average of 7 hours sitting in front of some type of screen or electronic device.
The Consequences of Too Much Technology
The amount of time many children spend staring or swiping at a screen is disheartening on many levels, but we need to consider the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends allotting children a maximum of two hours of daily screen time. Beyond inappropriate content, technology overuse can lead to the following:
- Anxiety, depression, and feelings of low self-esteem.
- Joint and neck pain.
- Altered brain development that is rewiring the prefrontal cortex, making children and teens more susceptible to forming addictions to fast paced stimuli social media and technology provides.
- Interrupted circadian rhythms and disrupted sleep patterns.
- Missed opportunities for peer interaction or free play.
- Stalled abilities to recognize emotions in others.
Outdoor Play and It’s Benefits
It’s easy to make excuses for why our kids are staying inside. Maybe it’s the draw of air conditioning or the streets aren’t safe, but green areas can provide our sons and daughters with a wide array of surprising health and emotional benefits. Here is a quick rundown of just a few positives fresh air and outside play provides:
- Children develop problem solving skills, form better observation practices, strengthen perceptions, and enhances creativity which ultimately leads to an increased readiness to learn which spills over to higher test scores.
- Boosted immune systems from exposure to dirt, Vitamin D exposure, animals, bacteria, and, yes, even germs.
- Exposure to green spaces can possibly alleviate some ADHD symptoms.
- Natural sunlight helps regulate biorhythms, which ultimately helps a child’s sleep patterns.
- Increased physical activity, which lowers the risks that a child will experience obesity, hypertension, or heart disease later in life.
Getting Kids Excited To Be Outside
It’s no secret that technology fulfills a need in our children’s lives, making it hard to compete with the lure of 24 hour cartoons or the fast paced world of the Internet our children’s technology provides. We need to challenge our families to be more intentional with our time and strive to live a more balanced life so our kids can mature into well-rounded adults who are able to thrive. Thankfully, we are not helpless and have plenty of opportunities to get our children back in the outdoors so when they are older they can also recall the thrill of a neighborhood game of sardines.
Please consider the following 5 suggestions to help motivate kids to step away from their devices and get outside:
- Allow children to earn the privilege of technology time. Several families have implemented a reward system that earns a set amount of minutes for every chore completed, hour reading, or time spent outdoors.
- Try to get the family outside and moving for an hour every day.
- Limit technology to family living areas in the home and consider using parental controls to keep usage in check.
- Go “dark” during certain hours to allow children and devices to recharge.
- Look into events that are free or low cost to the public provided by local State parks and recreation areas.
How does your family balance technology and outside play?
About the Author: Hilary Smith has parlayed her love of technology and parenting into a freelance writing career. As a journalist, she specializes in covering the challenges of parenting in the digital age. She loves all things tech and hasn’t met a gadget that didn’t spark her interest. The Texas native currently resides in Chicago, IL and braves the winters with her two children, ages 4 and 7. @HilaryS33