At a restaurant, they are given a phone to keep them quiet. At home, they are on devices while watching TV. Babies are given a phone while we feed them.
The average American child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a digital screen, often at the expense of unstructured play in nature.
What are we doing to our children?
Any time the discussion comes up, it is almost always met with defense. The kids don’t get the iPad often. The kids are in school and activities most of the day. I get it. It’s hard. But it seems we aren’t even trying these days.
Monday through Friday is a structured routine for most. My children watch TV daily. My daughter more so than my son considering she is in half day Kindergarten and I work from home full time. I try and break up her day but often times I am busy with work. Due to this, we make sure to get outside on the weekends. It’s not ideal but we try our best.
My 5 year old daughter has hiked 4 miles. I am proud of this. My children have been hiking their entire lives. There is nothing I love more than to see them pick up sticks, look at birds and run along a trail. It makes me feel like I am doing something right. I am giving them the experiences they need as children.
There is no child in the world that doesn’t want to go outside. They aren’t born that way. They are made to explore. They are made to run around. They are made to experience nature. Yet we’ve taken that away from them. We’ve confined them to the house. Without much to do, they gravitate towards devices. To give them the opportunity to experience more, we need to opt outside. We need to give them the freedom to run around. We need to give them time in nature.
The average American child is said to spend four to seven minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors.
Four to seven minutes? What happened to riding bikes and exploring? What happened to playing with a ball outside? What happened to trampolines and playground play?
We are doing a disservice to our children if we continue behaving this way. We absolutely need to take them outside for play. In Germany, there are outdoor preschools. It is called a forest kindergarten, a type of preschool education for children between the ages of three and six that is held outdoors. Children are encouraged to play, explore and learn in a natural environment.
Since we don’t have that option in the US, we need to take it upon ourselves to get the kids outside. Hate the outdoors? Sorry, no choice. While it sounds rough, it’s so good for our children that it’s a sacrifice we have to make. I didn’t grow up hiking. I started hiking about 12 years ago. I’ve hiked while pregnant with my children. I hiked with my 6 week old baby girl in a baby carrier. I don’t want my children to know different. I want them to think this is the norm.
Why? Why do I push to get them outside as much as possible?
The obvious reason is that they aren’t looking at screens when they are outside. They use their imagination. They play with rocks and twigs. They learn to keep an eye out for snakes. They look at birds. They take binoculars and look at hawks. And the best part? They sleep the entire way home. That’s when you know you’ve done a good job.
If you don’t have children and you have friends that do, offer to take them on your next hike. If you have children and don’t go outdoors much, you can always start. We have the ability to change things. We can decide to live a certain way and actually live it.
In today’s world, stress is common place. Hiking removes my stress. I feel good about giving my children the experiences they need to need to develop coping mechanisms for themselves. When we hike, I see the smiles on their faces. I see them have fun. As they get older, I want them to remember their happy place. Their stress free zone. We all need one. While we may have had to find ours on our own, we have the opportunity to help create them for our children.