They are calling my generation (Generation X) the “last generation in the woods. ” We are the last group of kids that know what it’s like to play outdoors all day long until the street lamp came on. Childhood obesity is at a all time high, and the number of school-related hate crimes is astounding. The results are clear, technology is up, and compassion is at a severe low.
It seems everywhere you look there are devices for kids to “plug in” to keep them occupied. It starts at a very young age with the light up toys and flashing, colorful jungle gyms. We have one for the car, one for the house, one for just in case the others die out. It’s all very overstimulating, and the effects on the brain (research is finding) are far-reaching. Even the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) is recommending that children don’t watch ANY television before the age of two. Many suggest much longer than that with the alarming information found in the effects of wi-fi on a developing brain before the age of nine years old.
Yet everywhere you look, children are plugged in. Plugged into iPhones, iPads, tablets, portable dvd players, you name it they’ve got it in their tiny grasp. Even billionaire entrepreneur and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, didn’t allow his children to have iPhones until well into their teens. Studies have found that social media can play a large part in screen addiction, but the building blocks for this issue are there long before social media is invited into the equation. Researchers have found that dopamine (the same effect drugs or alcohol have on the human brain) is released while using apps, or interacting on social media. That is why it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole once you’ve started using it. Ever log in to Facebook for “just a moment” only to find you’ve wasted two hours browsing? Luckily, there are many ways to help you decipher if your child is getting too much screen time.
At the grocery store, in the car, sitting at the table in the restaurant. If you notice that all of life’s everyday mundane activities seem to draw a device into the hand of your child, then they may have a screen addiction. All of these day to day activities, although not necessarily all exciting, play a part in your child’s social-emotional development. These are necessary interactions in which your child needs to learn how to navigate. You can alleviate this by purposely removing the option of devices from these activities. Important conversations are had in these still moments, missing out on these opportunities can have damaging effects. You can begin by setting boundaries for older children, or removing the opportunity to plug in altogether from younger kids during these moments. We recently bought a new SUV, and traded our minivan that had a dvd player in it. I thought it might be tough during road trips, but it turns out we enjoy car rides together much more, and the kids have found artistic ways to express themselves instead. The amount of drawing supplies that have made it’s way into our car rides, and we love it (except for the occasional melted crayon). It can be tough when parents need a break, but the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. Look for all of the fun and silly moments to be had, and the lessons learned. It will serves them much longer than the thirty minutes of quiet time at dinner.
If you notice that when you do remove the devices, or turn them off that your children look as though they’ve been posessed, they may have a screen addiction. The reason for this mean or intense behavior is because their brain is being overstimulated. Once that stimulation is removed, it can feel like an intense withdrawal. There’s no doubt about it, it feels as though the mean epidemic is larger than ever. Bullying is at an all time high (including cyber bullying), and kids are having trouble connecting with each other. The reason the popular Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” is such a hot topic is because it touches on many real struggles our youth are facing today. These issues are topics we have all faced growing up, only it seems it’s amplified because of the lack of social interaction and the introduction of social media. When I was growing up, if we made a silly mistake it wasn’t plastered all over and online resource for every school in the tri-state area to scoff at. Bullies were required to see the effects of their harsh words or actions immediately. They couldn’t hide behind a chat room, if they hurt someone, they had to see the effects of that hurt immediately, and suffer the intrinsic consequences by feeling terrible. Remove the person-to-person contact, and this becomes a dangerous scenario. There isn’t any compassion for a blank computer screen, and the person on the other end is up for grabs. The compassion and problem solving skills learned on the playground face to face, and the conflict resolution are what made other generations sturdy enough to handle pressure from the outside world, and grasp that today was a hard day; but there would be other days. Allowing kids the unstructured play time to work together to figure out their problems, and feel compassion for others, is crucial to healthy human development. They become the building blocks of our lives, and we draw on them in each situation of our lives moving forward. This can’t happen if kids never got to play and were constantly plugged in. You can start by reading books that encourage compassion to our children, we’re laying the groundwork. By allowing them to figure out some of their own issues on the playground (instead of running to the rescue), we encourage autonomy. When we learn to use the right language to help describe the issues instead of placing blame or judgement, we are teaching them conflict resolution, instead of how to play defense all the time and ostracize themselves.
In classrooms across America, children are faced with the physical effects of too much screen time. There is a reason the AAP has recommended little to no screen-time for children, the effects on the brain while staring at a glowing screen can be tough on the brain. The state your brain is in while engaged in pixelated content is the same as though you were sitting in a movie theater. Ever notice how after a few moments, you are wrapped into the screen as though no one else is in the theater? It’s because of the intense concentration that happens, we almost transcend our environment and notice nothing else. Screen time has this effect on the brain, and while the brain is in this state, it’s dormant. There is an entire part of the brain left being unused. This portion of the brain helps to control motor skills, coordination, and scanning (left to right scanning is what is the part of the brain that helps us to read, crawl, etc.). Think of a child’s brain as having dark areas (areas not yet in use), once a scent, or a feeling from touch is introduced, the brain creates a synapses, a bridge if you will to this sensation. A portion of the brain literally comes alive with a new experience tied to it, creating a bridge to another brand new experience. This is why sensorial play, and process art are so amazing for our children’s brains, it literally awakens parts of the brain that would otherwise go unused while plugged in. Movement is key to childhood development because the left to right transfer lends to the ability to learn to read later on. Movement can help develop the prefrontal cortex, which helps with problem solving and emotional self control. Without this, the brain relies on the primal part of the brain that sends “fight or flight” signals to the body, causing wild tantrums, and the inability to work through experiences.
While these signs may seem daunting, the beauty in childhood is that it is never too late to implement healthy habits. Children are resilient and can bounce back from physical and behavioral issues with the right guidance, and more importantly the right examples. That’s the key to any lessons in childhood, an example needs to be set. One of the biggest reasons children can suffer from screen addiction is that their parents may be facing the same issue without even realizing it. How can we expect our kids to practice responsible device use if we haven’t quite learned how to put down our own smartphone? Ask yourself these questions: Am I always on my phone in front of our kids? Do I have my phone or any devices present at the dinner table, or during family time? When they see me, what do they see. One of the quickest ways to try and understand our children and their habits is by getting down to their level, and watching what their experience with us is like.
There are tons of great books dedicated to this issue, and resolving it.
“The children and nature movement is fueled by this fundamental idea; the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.” -Richard Louv
We spend a lot of time outdoors and make it a priority to visit plenty of local parks. We plan annual camping trips around birthdays, We have dreams of visiting every national state park one day, we’ve already crossed off a few. If you follow my blog then you know I am passionate about getting kids outside and into nature in any capacity. The benefits are incredible, and with it being “Earth Week” and all (because one day just isn’t enough), I thought I’d share the latest in Kids To Parks Day 2017.
Each year, the National Park Trust hosts the annual Kids To Parks Day. A day dedicated to getting kids outdoors for some good old-fashioned play. Kids To Parks Day takes place on Saturday, May 20th. Anyone can participate in Kids to Parks Day, which is a national day of park play. National Park Trust (NPT) urges kids across the country to discover science, history, nature and adventure in a neighborhood park right around the corner or just across town. In an effort to get kids playing outside again, I’m listing a few of the ways you can encourage the children in your life to appreciate outdoor play.
One of the best ways to get kids outdoors is to constantly provide the space and opportunity. Keeping their schedule light and free for unstructured play to take place is crucial. While sports are outdoor activities, it’s imperative to have time for creative play without competition. It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal, some days we just take a walk after dinner around our neighborhood lake, or local trails. You’d be surprised the type of interaction this environment sparks. Many an important conversation have taken place on a simple hiking trail.
Don’t expect kids to stay immaculate in their Sunday’s best all the time. Constantly policing stains on a natural hike will the opposite effect and could discourage a child from wanting to engage outdoors. I keep a spare pair of play clothes in case we happen upon some park play fun one afternoon after school. I change it according to the season.
This year, National Park Trust is delighted to welcome their new Kids to Parks Day sponsor: Northside. Their generous support will provide park grants for some of the winners of our Kids to Parks Day School Contest. This year we all are taking our Northside Shoes for a spin. They are extremely comfortable and perfect for any elements. We all have matching pairs of the hiking sport sandals to keep us comfortable and safe on any terrain.
Last year more than 4,000 students from Title 1 schools benefited from the contest. Kids to Parks Day is the signature event of NPT’s popular Buddy Bison® school program, which teaches environmental education and the benefits of outdoor recreation to children in under-served schools across the country. NPT’s goal is to cultivate future park stewards and outdoor enthusiasts. Read more about the Buddy Bison® school program.
I find one of the easiest ways to get our kids interested in something is giving them complete control over it. If the boys are being picky with dinnertime, I begin to ask them what they would like to eat certain days of the week. I take them to our garden to pick the vegetables to cook. The more involved they are in the decision-making process, the more interested they become. By letting the kids pick some of our destinations from time to time, they get excited about planned dates to “their pick”.
Only good can come from teaching our kids to appreciate nature and get outside. After all, they are the generation that is going to have to defend it, and discover new ways to sustain it.
You can find out more about Kids To Parks Day and National Park Trust on their website. You can even schedule a park date of your own using NPT’s free resources. Kids to Parks Day 2017 promises to be bigger than ever! Last year, Kids to Parks Day had more than 730,000 participants in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. This year, the goal is to have 900,000 people enjoy Kids to Parks Day all across the country. To participate you can do the following:
Keep checking back to www.kidstoparks.org as more information about park events and prizes are updated until the big day.
I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Kids To Parks Day this year on May 20, 2017.We’ll be sure not to leave Buddy behind!
In order to encourage one of my readers to participate, I am partnering with Northside to give away a free pair of Northside shoes of your choosing. Simply enter the giveaway below for your chance to win between now and May 1st, and #GetOutside.
National Park Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving parks today and creating park stewards for tomorrow. As people spend more time indoors, and as successive generations grow up with less of a connection to nature, NPT wants to build a greater awareness and appreciation for the importance of our country’s public lands and parks. NPT’s Buddy Bison® School Program and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest were selected in 2015 as a National Park Service Centennial Challenge Project. Learn more at: www.parktrust.org or call 301-279-7275.