Before the digital age, spring and summer days were more likely to be spent outside—riding bikes, playing games or just hanging out. Social media did not exist and socializing typically meant face-to-face interaction. This Earth Day, we call on parents (and teens!) to get outside and reap the health benefits of the great outdoors.
These days, kids can get caught up for hours at a time staring at a small screen. And that can foster social isolation and unhealthy habits that lead to obesity.
According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while social media has its benefits, spending too much time online has downsides as well. Teens who are constantly on social media are at risk of cyberbullying and other online aggression. They also put themselves at risk for disclosing private information, viewing inappropriate content or being exposed to predators.
Too much screen time can also affect them physically. In a 2016 study published in The BMJ, screen time was linked to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes in children who reported more than 3 hours of screen time per day. And it makes sense: When kids spend more time sitting in front of screens and less time staying physically active, they are more vulnerable to developing poor lifestyle habits that contribute to overeating and obesity.
So how do we encourage our children to get away from their screens and out into the world? Here are some tips:
Practice what you preach.
Although your teen may not seem to pay attention to anything you do or say, you are still his or her most important role model. Turn off your own screen, go outside and take a daily walk. Better yet, invite your child to join you.
Encourage activities that get them outdoors.
Look for activities and clubs that engage your teen socially and support outdoor activities. Joining a sports team is one way to do it, but there are others—like volunteering together to clean up a park or simply kicking around a soccer ball in the back yard.
Tap into service requirements at school.
Most schools these days have service requirements for graduation. Look into opportunities at parks, natural refuges, trail systems, and other outdoor venues that offer service hours.
Offer to host an outdoor event.
Encourage them to invite their friends and host a hiking, camping, or fishing trip. Take along a friend or two of your own so you can be seen enjoying the activity versus acting as a chaperone.
Put that love of technology to use.
Have your teen find podcasts on outdoor topics to help guide outdoor exploration, or get them to help you learn how to Geocache. Of course, let the technology help guide the experience, but not replace it. Read more ideas on how to use a smartphone to plan outdoor fun.
Plan a family trip in the great outdoors.
Pack up some gear and reserve a camping spot some place you’ve never been. Better yet, have your teen help plan it. Your only input can be distance traveled and a cost limit. Let them take the lead and surprise you. Of course—encourage the family to leave their phones at home before you go.
Earth Day activities:
Practice some planetary kindness with these Earth Month kindness ideas