Are kids growing up today so obsessed with technology that they are missing out on the beauty of nature and the fun of being outdoors?
Nature Valley thinks so. As part of their #GetOutThere campaign, designed to “inspire more people to get outside,” the granola bar company recently released a popular viral video. The video contrasts modern kids’ idea of fun with the things their parents and grandparents liked to do at the same age.
When asked to name their favorite activities as kids, the parents and grandparents being interviewed talk about picking blueberries, gardening, playing baseball and sledding. One even describes an unexpected encounter with a bear during a fishing trip.
The great outdoors vs. the evils of technology tone changes, however, when the same families’ children are then asked, “What do you like to do for fun?” The kids’ responses convey a vastly different world than the one in which their parents and grandparents grew up.
“My favorite thing to do in the world,” one boy says, “is definitely watching videos and playing video games. Those take up so much of my time.” The other children describe spending numerous hours with their smartphones and computers. One little girl claims, “I would die if I didn’t have my tablet.”
While their parents’ and grandparents’ memories paint an idyllic picture of being outdoors among friends and family, the kids are spending their time indoors and alone. The video’s sobering point is clearly that technology is affecting kids today like an addictive drug, and isolating them from other people as they stare at the glowing screens on their electronic devices.
Is this an exaggeration? Or an accurate picture of the way today’s kids are growing up?
Numerous studies have indeed confirmed that on average, kids are spending mere minutes each day outdoors compared with several hours in front of screens. Research has also shown that outdoor time offers many benefits for kids’ health and happiness. Increased childhood obesity rates and rising numbers of kids on ADHD medications and antidepressants have led groups like the National Wildlife Federation to conclude that today’s kids are “out of shape, tuned out and stressed out, because they’re missing something essential to their health and development: connection to the natural world.”
There is more behind these disturbing trends, however, than simply “the evils of technology.” Some blame a culture of fear in which parents are afraid to let children out of their sight, and therefore no longer ask the traditional question, “Why don’t you go play outside?” Access to natural areas can also be limited, particularly for children in urban environments.
Getting outdoors is good, but that doesn’t mean technology is bad.
Certainly, kids aren’t the only ones whose lives are heavily impacted by technology. Plenty of adults obsessively update multiple social media accounts, or rush out to purchase every new Apple product.
The concern expressed in this video, though, seems to be that kids today don’t even know they have a choice. Their elders remember a childhood filled with fresh air and sunshine rather than Netflix and Snapchat, and know from personal experience that it is possible to get by without video games and computers””that they won’t actually “die” without their tablets. Kids who grew up playing with smartphones, on the other hand, cannot remember a time when technology was not ubiquitous. The glowing screen has always been a basic feature of their world.
Still, why does the issue have to be “either/or”?
The small sampling of kids interviewed in the video are never asked, “How often do you go outdoors?” or “Do you like being in nature?” They do talk about how much they use electronic devices, but that doesn’t mean that they never do anything else. Facebook and Instagram are overflowing with pictures from users’ vacations, hikes, rafting trips, safaris, and other outdoor adventures. It is easy to make fun of people who can’t seem to enjoy an experience without immediately sharing it online, but they are undeniably out there having those experiences. Kids may love video games, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love other things too.
The same parents who make electronic devices available to their children have the power to make the outdoors available as well.
The real issue comes down to exposure and opportunity. Are kids aware of what nature and the outdoors have to offer, and do they have the chance to explore and experience those things? Long before Nature Valley’s campaign and video, there were programs to get inner-city children out into nature, and to send kids to camp who otherwise could not afford to go. What this current debate demonstrates is that “nature deficit disorder” (a phrase invented by Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods) is no longer limited to underprivileged kids. One resource””technology””is being taken advantage of.
Another””nature””is being neglected. The same parents who make electronic devices available to their children have the power to make the outdoors available as well. Smartphones and video games aren’t going anywhere, but if parents get more involved and make the right choices, then their kids just might be.
What do you like to do for fun? Share with us your favorite times using hashtag #NDFdebate