Kids must rediscover nature in this age of technology

Yesterday, my mother shared a scary statistic with me. The average American child spends five to seven hours in front of a screen throughout the day. At least three of those hours are spent in front of the television.

Are parents really allowing this? I thought of my own kids, who I will admit, do watch cartoons almost every day. They probably watch one hour of television on a weekday and up to two hours on a Saturday or Sunday. Some weekends the kids don't watch a thing as we're out and about attending events for the blog, exploring and staying busy in general. We're not a sitting still type of family.

Screen addiction

I'm scared for American children. They're addicted to screens of all kinds. A few months ago, our special needs son was obsessively grabbing my phone to play games and we quickly ended that before it became part of his expected routine. Now we've limited computer time (which includes phone or computer games) to one hour on the weekend per child and this hour must be earned throughout the week through completed chores and kindness points. Our oldest daughter is still not allowed to have a Nintendo DS despite her begging for one the last two Christmas seasons.

As busy and often exhausted parents, we're big fans of afternoon quiet time (read a book or play in your room). We have a slew of kiddie board games. Pandora is literally our favorite thing ever. We play music constantly — opera, indie pop, children's stations, The Beatles. I'm partial to David Bowie & Queen and the kids feed off of that energy — music encourages them to sing and dance.

A transformative climb

The most frightening thing about the state of many American children and their parents is that it seems they've forgotten there are forests out there, natural places where one can run, jump, imagine, explore and hide.

I remember vividly the view from the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine after my 16th birthday. I'd fought with my mother the whole way to the top. I did not want to climb that stupid mountain. I guess I figured that if I irritated her enough, she'd give up and turn back. Nope. Not my mother. She did threaten to leave me a few times so she could finish the climb without me.

When we finally reached the top, I was a child transformed. This huge green expanse spread out down below, a basin dotted with enchanted blue lakes and I felt like I'd never seen Earth before that moment. Nature is immeasurably powerful. Introduce a child to nature and you've given them a timeless, life-changing gift.

…it seems they've forgotten there are forests out there, natural places where one can run, jump, imagine, explore and hide.

My mother was never one to stick me in front of a screen, either. We were always outside. Swimming. Birding. Canoeing. Hiking. Backpacking in Maine, Vermont and through Canada.
She made us carry and draw in sketchbooks on all our trips. But families don't have to travel to Canada to find trees and open space. All you have to do is look up a local state park. State parks are great places to find trails. Kids can help plant flower and vegetable gardens in their own yards, which will encourage them to connect with and take care of growing things while building a family food supply.

A natural attraction

Kids are naturally attracted to nature. They just have to be encouraged. We're failing as parents if we're not looking to the natural environment for help. Nature teaches responsibility, nurturing and life truths like life and death. Why are we, as a society, so intent on separating ourselves from the Earth and gluing our eyes to a phone or a computer?

Winter is a wonderful time to explore the outside. Animal tracks are visible in the snow, birds are easily spotted and there are many types of plants and animals still flourishing. Take your children outside — please. Leave the phones and games at home. Follow a bug as it travels the ground toward its destination. Seek out a trail and challenge your children to stay quiet as you all listen and look. Find a lonely beach and search for shells and rocks. In this age of hyper technology, we have to ground ourselves again. Look to nature and teach your kids to do the same. As parents, this is our responsibility.

EJ Curran is a Delaware mom. This post was adapted from her blog, Four Little Monsters.

Categories: MomSpeak