The Case for Taking Your Kids on an Unplugged Vacation
Siri, we’ve got a problem…
We may think our kids are spending plenty of time outdoors, but the sad truth is that most are not. In fact, some studies suggest kids today spend half the amount of time outside as we did when we were young. Even more alarming is that some experts say it’s as little as 4 – 7 minutes per day.
How did this happen? Two words: Screen time. Whether it’s binge-watching their favorite TV shows, texting non-stop with friends, brainlessly scrolling on TikTok or zoning out to video games, our kids are more connected to devices than ever. According to a 2015 study by Common Sense Media, American youth between the ages of 8 – 18 on average are logging 7.5 hours of screen time per day, and that’s not counting time spent using media for school or homework.
As for us adults, we’re no better. We check email 24/7, work around the clock because we can, are equally as addicted to social media as our kids, and hey, we practically invented the TV marathon session. The difference is that we can still remember what it was like before technology became ingrained in our daily lives. If you think about it, many of us parents who have young kids right now make up the last generation of people who had an unplugged childhood. And it’s turning into a very big problem.
It’s Time to Move Childhood Back Outside
In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv explored the ever-growing disconnect between children and the outdoors and how it impacts their physical and emotional health. Through extensive research and examples Louv attributed the epidemics of obesity, depression and attention disorders in our youth to a childhood that has largely moved indoors and online. He coined it “nature-deficit disorder.”
While Louv stressed his findings were not a medical diagnosis, rather a societal diagnosis, more and more pediatricians have turned to “lack of nature” as a partial explanation for the growing list of issues they’re seeing in their practices. Some of them have even started writing prescriptions to go outside.
This is no surprise considering that spending time outdoors now has proven health benefits. For example, scientific research has shown that connecting with nature lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and bolsters our immune system, as well as many other positive impacts. It also helps fuel creativity and imagination and makes us happier over all. And most recently, researchers have started to look at the healing power of the outdoors.
It’s clear that developing a balanced relationship with technology and spending more time outdoors is vital to the health of our children, but it’s also increasingly obvious that it’s vital to the health of our planet.
Who will stand up for the planet when we’re gone?
Right now, we are at an environmental crossroads. If we expect future generations to care about the natural world, research indicates that individuals need to feel connected to it—ideally from a young age. In a 2006 study, researchers at Cornell University examined people’s interactions with “wild nature” before the age of 11. What they found was that people who had early experiences hiking, camping, fishing, or similar, cared more about the environment as adults than those who didn’t spend time in nature as kids.
There’s a good chance this stands up to your own personal experience, as well. Most of us who love the outdoors have at least one experience from when we were younger that has stuck with us over the years. It might have been a family camp out, a national park trip, or a whitewater rafting adventure…whatever it was, there’s something about that experience that sparked a sense of awe and wonder in us. And those feelings are precisely what make us care more about the natural world as adults and inspire us to get out there time and time again.
So what we do with our kids right now, might be our last chance to get things right—to unplug every once in a while and teach healthy technology habits, to get outside together, and hopefully, foster a love and respect for the outdoors that lasts a lifetime.